Gov. Butch Otter on Friday appointed freshman Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking to the Senate seat formerly held by Branden Durst.
Durst, a member of the Senate Education Committee, resigned Dec. 1 after he had been living out of his district part-time. Democrats from Boise’s legislative District 18 put Ward-Engelking at the top of their three-person list to replace Durst.
Ward-Engelking, a former teacher, was a member of the House Education Committee. She also served on Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.
Otter’s selection is final and does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
“Rep. Ward-Engelking was part of an exemplary freshman class in the Idaho House. Now she has the opportunity to continue her work in the Idaho Senate, where I’m confident she will continue to serve the people of District 18 well,” Otter said in a news release.
Tom Luna, the Republican superintendent of public instruction, offered his support for Ward-Engelking’s appointment late Friday. Earlier this month, Luna voiced his support for education reform bills, presented by Ward-Engelking and other Democrats, that are tailored to some of the task force’s 20 recommendations.
“I was very pleased she was the first choice of the Democrats to succeed Sen. Durst,” Luna told Idaho Education News. “I look forward to working with now-Sen. Ward-Engleking, who helped draft the reform bills she and Rep. (Grant) Burgoyne brought forward.”
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Democrats had pushed for a successor with strong education credentials, and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, previously told Idaho Education News that Durst’s successor would be welcome to Durst’s old seat on the education panel.
“Ideally, because Sen. Durst’s strength was in education, whoever is selected should be a strong and knowledgeable person in education,” Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum told Idaho Education News last month. “That’s a greater portion of the budget and we’re looking for a person who knows a great deal about it, if at all possible.”
Although Ward-Engelking’s transition to the Senate has been set up to be a smooth one, her appointment will create a vacancy in the House – including an Education Committee vacancy.
District 18 Democrats will likely follow the same format to replace Ward-Engelking: accepting applications, interviewing candidates, developing a list of finalists and submitting recommendations to Otter.
The legislative session begins Jan. 6 and the timetable for filling Ward-Engelking’s House vacancy was not immediately announced Friday.
District 18 Democrats had also recommended Lawrence Crowley and Beth Oppenheimer for the Senate vacancy. If Crowley and Oppenheimer are interested in the House seat, they could, theoretically, become front-runners for that vacancy.
Crowley is president and director of The Energy Services Group, while Oppenheimer is executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.