Elections

Boise schools candidate says claims of violence untrue - but they’ve cost him support

Former state lawmaker Branden Durst speaks during a forum for Boise School Board candidates Aug. 21, 2018.
Former state lawmaker Branden Durst speaks during a forum for Boise School Board candidates Aug. 21, 2018. nblanchard@idahostatesman.com

Past abuse and harassment claims tied to a divorce may have helped halt a former Idaho lawmaker’s runs for office in Washington state. They have now surfaced again, as the former lawmaker seeks a seat on the Boise School Board.

In March, a Tacoma city councilman pulled his endorsement of Branden Durst for a seat in the Washington House after learning Durst had temporary domestic violence and harassment protection orders filed against him in 2013 through 2015.

This month, the same issue led a Boise city councilman to retract his own endorsement of Durst, one of six candidates vying for three school board seats in the Sept. 4 election.

Durst told the Statesman that the claims about his past are untrue, and largely declined to comment on the two pulled endorsements. He said he should be judged on his qualifications, not his personal life, saying his legislative experience and understanding of school financing makes him the best candidate for school board.

Durst, a Democrat, served in the Idaho House from 2006 to 2010.

In 2012, he was elected to the Idaho Senate. Meanwhile, his wife took a job in Washington state, and Durst resigned his Idaho legislative seat a year into his term after questions over how he was dividing his time between the two states.

In 2016, Durst made an unsuccessful bid for the Washington Legislature.

Earlier this year, on Feb. 23, he announced on social media that he would run again to represent Tacoma’s District 29.

A few weeks later, The Tacoma News-Tribune reported, Tacoma City Councilman Chris Beale endorsed Durst — then pulled his endorsement after learning about temporary protection orders granted to Durst’s ex-wife several years ago.

Durst and his ex-wife were married in Washington in 2006 and divorced in 2014, according to media reports.

“King County Superior Court records show court commissioners issued temporary protection orders for domestic violence and harassment against Durst for parts of the last three years after requests by his ex-wife. The orders were rolled into the divorce case and into ongoing child custody proceedings,” The Olympian reported in July 2016, when Durst’s House opponent sent out mailers about the protection orders. “Durst’s ex-wife accused him of punching doors and walls near her, wrestling her for car keys, tackling her young son and verbally threatening her and her mother in separate incidents. Durst denies the events happened.”

Durst was never criminally charged with domestic abuse. He reiterated to the Statesman on Monday that the domestic violence allegations against him are not true.

He refused to comment on why the Tacoma city councilman pulled his endorsement — or why Durst, in the end, didn’t file to enter that race after all. Washington’s filing deadline was May 15.

Durst moved back to Boise earlier this year.

On June 29, he again used social media to announce that he had officially filed for the school board race.

Boise City Councilman TJ Thomson on Aug. 4 posted an endorsement of Durst. But Thomson pulled the endorsement the next day, deleting his social media posts about it.

“Many comments came up on issues (about Durst) I had no knowledge of when I made the post,” Thomson told the Statesman. He would not elaborate further, but noted that he himself lives in the West Ada School District, not the Boise district.

Durst refused to comment on Thomson’s decision.

In addition to Durst, the candidates running for the three Boise School District board seats include incumbent board members Maria Greeley and Troy Rohn and challengers Alicia Estey, Shari Fernandez and James Tooman. All six spoke Tuesday about school funding, preschool and other topics at a forum put on by the Boise Metro Chamber.

Longtime school board member AJ Balukoff is stepping down after 21 years of service, creating an open seat.

Balukoff, Boise Mayor David Bieter and current school board member Beth Oppenheimer on Monday jointly endorsed Estey, who is chief compliance officer at Boise State.

“Alicia has a strong legal and accounting background that will be beneficial to the school board,” Balukoff said in a news release. “Her compliance work at Boise State will lend well to the work needed on the school board and I strongly endorse Alicia’s candidacy for the seat I’m exiting.”

Cynthia Sewell is the Idaho Statesman’s government and investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.
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