One of the rising stars in the Idaho Legislature speaks four languages and put the brakes on a lucrative international business career to serve his state.
At the beginning of just his second term, House leaders promoted Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, to serve as chairman of the House Education Committee.
They promoted DeMordaunt – a school choice man who served on the education committee for the past two years – because of his background, experience, global perspective and education.
DeMordaunt speaks English, Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew, though he said he “fumbles” through the latter two.
He earned a pair of master’s degrees, in international business and Middle Eastern studies from the University of South Carolina and the American University in Cairo, Egypt, respectively.
DeMordaunt points to the 1973 oil embargo as piquing his interest in the Middle East. As an elementary school student in Idaho Falls, DeMordaunt remembers talking with his father about how the family would need to buy a more fuel-efficient car to combat the rising prices at the pumps.
“I was so impressed that there was this part of the world that had so much influence in our lives that it caused our family to change their decisions,” DeMordaunt said. “I thought I wanted to learn more about this part of the world. I was only in elementary school, but it just caused me to develop an interest in the Middle East.”
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Eventually, DeMordaunt combined his fascination with the Middle East and his business career, where he helped major companies expand their business in Asia and the Middle East.
He has worked for Exxon, Proctor and Gamble and Word Perfect in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
And he started his own business, Med Management Technologies, which sells medication management software to customers in 46 states.
“He’s smart, he’s well-educated himself, he has a varied background and he’s committed to excellence in education,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “I’m very comfortable with him being where he is.”
DeMordaunt, who grew up attending public school in Idaho Falls, continues to serve as CEO of his software company. He admits balancing legislative duties while heading up the business end of his company is a delicate dance.
Idaho lawmakers make $16,116 a year, and DeMordaunt could easily earn significantly more money had he dedicated himself exclusively to the business world. But he said he felt a calling to serve and a desire to shape change and decided to sacrifice some of his business career
“At a certain point in time, after being involved in those committees, I realized that if you’re going to make a difference you have get off the sidelines and get into the game,” DeMordaunt said.
Although DeMordaunt is in his second legislative term, education policy work is not new to him. In the early 2000s, DeMordaunt worked with the Idaho State Board of Education’s MOST initiative. There he worked with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (before Luna was elected to his current post) on education policy initiatives including a pay-for-performance system of merit pay.
Luna said he developed respect for DeMordaunt while working together on education policy.
“Reed’s involvement in education started long before he went in the Legislature,” Luna said. “I think he will do a tremendous job and I was pleased (he was appointed chairman).”
As for his philosophy toward education, DeMordaunt said he is a big advocate for accountability and school choice. He believes parents and teachers are the most important factor in a student’s success and he wants to encourage more parental involvement in education.
DeMordaunt and his wife, Gayann, are raising six children, three of whom are in college. DeMordaunt said families and parents should be able to choose what kind of education structure is best for them.
“With choice comes accountability of the system, whether it’s a charter school, magnet, traditional, private or home school, accountability is critical if we want to be successful,” DeMordaunt said.
This year, nine of the 16 members of the House Education Committee that DeMordaunt leads are rookie lawmakers. Throughout the opening weeks of the session, he has demonstrated patience with the freshmen and emphasized the background study that is needed to shape nuanced policy. He asked members to study financial, compensation and budget structures with Deputy Superintendent of Public Schools Finance Tim Hill. And lawmakers have said he makes sure they are comfortable and up to speed before proceeding.
Freshman Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said DeMordaunt has made time to meet with her outside of committee meetings to help her transition and learn the ropes.
“He’s not reactive, he is very calm and thoughtful in his general approach and respectful of committee members,” Horman said. “There are quite a few freshmen on this committee and I think it was a smart choice at the beginning to make sure there is a foundation of understanding for how the budget works as well as the current unique budgetary circumstances we are in.”
After three weeks at the helm of one of the most closely watched committees in the House, the top-ranking House member thinks DeMordaunt was the right choice for the job.
“We talk often, and the more we talk, the more confident I am (in DeMordaunt),” Bedke said.