An education committee revolving door?

Branden Durst’s pending resignation will bring a shakeup to the Senate Education Committee.

And, possibly, to the House Education Committee as well.

Durst, D-Boise, is resigning effective Dec. 1 — nearly three months after reports surfaced that Durst was splitting his time between Idaho and Washington state, where his wife has landed a teaching job. Durst held one of two Democratic spots on the nine-member Senate Education Committee.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise

Legislative District 18 Democrats are beginning the search for a successor to Durst. One candidate is already getting some buzz in Democratic circles: first-term state Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking. The Idaho Democratic Party took the somewhat unusual step of touting her interest in the post Thursday.

“Ward-Engelking has been a great proponent of sound education policy and strong voice of reason in the House,” Democrats said in a post on the party’s website.

The release did say that other candidates are “likely” to surface — and linked to a site where hopefuls can apply online. But with fellow District 18 Rep. Phylis King saying she’d prefer to stay put, and with a newly appointed senator likely to face a strong opponent in one of Idaho’s swing districts, Ward-Engelking may well be the Democrats’ preferred pick. Ward-Engelking has already won in District 18, so Democrats might well want her running as an incumbent to defend the Senate seat.

Ultimately, Gov. Butch Otter will appoint a successor to Durst, picking from three nominees submitted by the Democrats. Otter is not obligated to take a party’s first choice. Nor is Otter obligated to “promote” a House member to the Senate — although there is a long track record in this regard.

If Ward-Engelking is appointed to the Senate, the retired educator would seem almost a shoo-in to get Durst’s seat on the Senate Education Committee.

After losing a 2010 House election by only seven votes, Ward-Engelking spent the 2011 researching Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s Students Come First laws on her party’s behalf. After her election to the House in 2012, she landed a seat on the House Education Committee, and was appointed to Otter’s education reform task force.

Senate leaders say Democrats would have their choice of who they’d like to assign to Senate Education: Durst’s successor, or another Democrat.

If Ward-Engelking leaves the House for the Senate, Democrats would have a vacancy on House Education. Democrats have three seats on the 16-member committee: other House Education Democrats are Hy Kloc of Boise and Donna Pence of Gooding.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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