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Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, a.k.a. Speaker of the House March 18, 2008

Idaho House has “Madame Speaker” on Historic Day

Members and followers of the Idaho House of Representatives heard something today they may not have heard before: “Madame Speaker.”

Representative Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, filled in for Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, for a while during today’s session, primarily consisting of a series of appropriations bills (beginning with, coincidentally, the appropriations bill for the Women’s Commission).

Representative Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, was the first to say “Madame Speaker,” drawing a round of applause from the House, and representatives seemed to make a point of finding an excuse to say “Madame Speaker.”

Almost as unusual about having Henbest as a speaker is the fact she is also a Democrat, particularly since Democrats have complained that during Denney’s tenure as Speaker that he has not respected the minority party, such as by denying them an extra seat last year on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that they felt they deserved.

“It makes my day to see you there,” said fellow Democrat and woman Representative Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

Henbest, a six-term representative who has announced that she is not running for re-election, has drawn the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike for her expertise, particularly in the area of health issues. She was instrumental, along with former Representative Kathy Skippen, R-Emmett, in reforming Medicaid in 2006, and just before her elevation to Madame Speaker today, sponsored an impassioned defense of a $70 million bond for a secure mental health facility.

Henbest stumbled a bit at first on the various rote speeches given by the Speaker until the clerk pointed out all the cheat sheets taped to the desk with the text written on them, at which point she intoned them as handily, if not as sonorously, as Denney.

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