Idaho


Eye on Boise: Branden Durst resigns from state Senate for family reasons

SUNDAY, NOV. 24, 2013

BOISE – A Democratic state senator from Boise resigned from the Senate last week, several months after news reports suggested he’d actually already left the state.

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, a first-term senator who earlier served three terms in the House, said in a resignation letter delivered to the office of Gov. Butch Otter that he decided to resign “after a period of deep reflection and prayer” and concluded that his constituents would be better served if someone else were given the opportunity to represent them.

“I have been incredibly honored and thankful to be given the tremendous opportunity to serve,” Durst wrote. “However, I am choosing to put my family first, and doing so will prevent me from completing the term to which I was elected.”

In September, Durst acknowledged that his wife and family had moved to the Seattle area, where she is teaching. He said he was dividing his time between Seattle and Boise after a local TV station reported that his home in his Boise district appeared close to abandoned and devoid of furniture.

KTVB-TV reporter Jamie Grey caught Durst in his yard and interviewed him through a wood fence when he refused to come out. He said then that he was still living at least 50 percent of the time in Boise. “I still have a bed and clothes all here. All my stuff’s still here. Everything else is gone,” he said.

Under Idaho law, a vacancy in office occurs by “the incumbent ceasing to be a resident of the state, district or county in which the duties of his office are to be exercised, or for which he may have been elected.”

In the months since the KTVB report, Durst’s absence at an interim legislative committee meeting raised eyebrows.

Now, the Idaho Democratic Party’s central committee for Legislative District 18 has 15 days from the effective date of Durst’s resignation, Dec. 1, to send three names to Otter from which to choose a replacement, and then the governor has 15 days to make the appointment. Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who’s in the same district, has announced she’ll seek the Senate seat. If she’s the appointee, then a similar process would name her replacement.

Latest Idaho income report

Total personal income in Idaho in 2012 was up 3.9 percent from 2011, according to new estimates, but not because of boosts in wages. Instead, it was rising business profits that drove the growth, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

Business profits were up 6.6 percent statewide, while wages rose only 2.3 percent, compared to 4.3 percent nationally.

Overall, Idaho’s 3.9 percent increase in total personal income was a third of a percentage point below the national increase.

Edmunds to head Labor

Idaho Board of Education member Ken Edmunds, a Twin Falls business consultant, has been named director of the Idaho Department of Labor, to replace longtime director Roger Madsen, who retired after 18 years in the post, serving under four governors.

Edmunds, 58, said he became interested in the job through his interest in workforce development and improving Idaho’s economy, sparked through various state board projects. Otter, who chose Edmunds for the post, now must name a replacement for him on the Board of Education, where Edmunds’ term runs through 2018.

“It’s going to be hard to fill Roger’s shoes,” Edmunds said. “He’s done a wonderful job. The department is probably as well respected an entity as you’re going to find.”

Defense panel in works

A legislative interim committee has agreed on the concept of a state Public Defense Commission to help oversee improvements in the state’s spotty and problem-plagued system of criminal defense for indigent defendants. But the senators and representatives also agreed last week that the new commission should make recommendations to the Legislature on new requirements for qualifications, experience and performance standards for public defenders, rather than promulgate rules on those items itself. “I don’t know that we can do it all at once,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, co-chair of the interim committee. “It may be a two- or three-year process.”

The committee’s work opened in August after a stern warning from Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick that the state’s criminal defense system for indigent defendants is “broken,” plagued by soaring caseloads, short funding and lack of qualified, experienced and suitably trained attorneys.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854. Follow her blog, Eye on Boise, at spokesman.com/boise, and on Twitter, @BetsyZRussell.


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