Democrat Ward-Engelking will seek Durst's Senate seat in southeast Boise

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comNovember 20, 2013 

Sen. Branden Durst

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, says she will submit her name for appointment to complete the second year of the term of Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise.

“I’m hoping I can be a strong voice for education, but not just that — for resources and agriculture, too,” said Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher who grew up in a family of farmers and teachers.

Ward-Engelking, a freshman, won’t have competition from her senior colleague, four-term Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise. “I want to stay in the House,” King said. “I’m happy with the people I work with and I want to stay on JFAC (the budget committee).”

Durst, whose family has been living in Washington state since his wife got a job there, submitted his resignation to Gov. Butch Otter, effective Dec. 1. "He just decided he need to be closer to his family," said Ward-Engelking, who said she spoke with Durst Tuesday, after he'd submitted his letter.

The vacancy will be filled by Otter, who will choose from three nominees submitted by the Democrats' District 18 Committee. The committee is made up of precinct committeemen and committeewomen, with 11 of the 18 precincts filled, said District 18 Chairman John Goettche. The committee must submit the names by Dec. 16. An application is available online.

Goettche said he’s heard informal interest from about a half-dozen Democrats, but any urged any ambitious Democrat to apply. “We don’t know who’s out there. There could be a highly qualified person that hasn’t been talked about informally. We want that person to have that opportunity.”

Though tradition holds that a House member is often picked to fill a Senate vacancy, there are exceptions. In 2009, Otter named GOP activist Melinda Smyser of Parma to replace Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, choosing her over Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett.

Ward-Engelking said she’s not taking anything for granted, from the committee’s choice to the governor’s decision. “There are quite a few qualified people," she said. "I’m hopeful, but I also know it’s an election year and this is politics.”

If Ward-Engelking is chosen, District 18 Democrats would meet again to choose three nominees to complete her House term.

I asked Ward-Engelking this hypothetical: If the committee nominates you, but the governor chooses another candidate, would you run for the Senate?

That depends, said Ward-Engelking. “My goal is to keep three Democrats in District 18. I’ll do what’s right for the party.”

District 18 is one of a handful of places where the parties have swapped control in recent years. Sen. Sheila Sorensen held the Senate seat from 1992-2004, followed by Democrat Kate Kelly (2004-2010), Republican Mitch Toryanski (2010-2012) and Durst. Durst served three House terms before being elected to the Senate in 2012.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, issued a statement saying, “I am confident that all of my colleagues in the minority caucus join me in applauding Branden’s real-world demonstration of family values and we all appreciate the sacrifices that must be made by anyone who chooses to serve in public office. I am grateful to Branden for his many years of dedicated service to the people of Idaho and we wish him continued success throughout his career.”

A Democratic Party's press release follows:

"Idaho State Senator Branden Durst, of Boise, has delivered a letter of resignation to the governor’s office and senate leaders. His resignation is effective as of the first day of December. A committee has been formed to vet nominees to replace Durst. Three nominees will be submitted to the governor, who will choose one.

"Dist. 18 Idaho Democrats who are interested in being considered for the vacant Senate position can visit the Idaho Democratic Party website and take a short survey.

"Senator Durst said he is resigning to focus on his family’s needs. He does not believe he can give his constituents the representation they deserve in the meantime. Durst was elected as Dist. 18 senator in 2012. Prior to that, he served as the District 18 state representative from 2006 to 2010.

"'I want to thank Branden Durst for his years of service and dedication to Idahoans,' said IDP Chair Larry Kenck. 'We are sad to see him leave but wish him well in his future endeavors.'

"District 18 Legislative Chair John Goettsche is leading the candidate recruitment committee that will vet potential nominees. Goettsche said, “We appreciate Senator Durst’s service over the years and we were well-represented by him. Although we will miss him, we are confident we will find a worthy person to take his place.”

"Goettsche is overseeing a process to fill the vacancy left by Durst. That process is as follows:

"A candidate recruitment committee will screen applicants and make recommendations to the Dist. 18 Central Committee for nominees to be appointed to the governor."

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service