BOISE -- A Boise senator who came under fire after KTVB's Jamie Grey uncovered he was living part-time in Washington state has announced he is resigning from the Idaho Senate.
According to the Idaho Democratic Party, Sen. Branden Durst has delivered a letter of resignation to the governor’s office and senate leaders. His resignation is effective Dec. 1.
Durst told us in September that his wife had taken a teaching job in Seattle, Wash., and that he was living in Boise about 50 percent of the time. Despite not being a full-time Idaho resident, Durst said then he was still committed to serving his constituents in District 18.
Durst says he needs to 'put family first'
In a statement, Durst said he is resigning from the Senate to focus on his family’s needs. He does not believe he can give his constituents the representation they deserve in the meantime. Durst was elected as a state senator in 2012. Prior to that, he served as state representative from 2006 to 2010.
In his letter of resignation, he forwarded questions to his "personal friend and advisor Matthew Payn". KTVB spoke with Payn on the phone on Wednesday afternoon. He said Durst has been contemplating his decision for a couple of months. After balancing politics and family for years, Payn said Durst felt the balance had tipped, and he needed to make family his priority.
Payn could not say if Durst plans to move from the Boise area and declined to say whether Durst was in town the day he resigned. He says Durst has a passion for serving and would like to pursue politics again in the future.
Senate minority leadership, Democratic Party officials applaud 'family-first' decision
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett received the letter Tuesday. She says since Durst's wife took a job in Washington, his resignation did not come as a surprise because she says he has always "put his family and faith above all other obligations".
“I am confident that all of my colleagues in the minority caucus join me in applauding Branden’s real-world demonstration of family values and we all appreciate the sacrifices that must be made by anyone who chooses to serve in public office,” Stennett said in a written statement. “I am grateful to Branden for his many years of dedicated service to the people of Idaho and we wish him continued success throughout his career. We look forward to welcoming Branden’s replacement into the minority caucus and will make ourselves available to help facilitate a seamless transition for the Idaho Senate and the good people of District 18.”
Despite residency questions this summer, the Idaho Democratic Party says that's a season with fewer demands for all legislators, and Durst dutifully served the people of the district during the session. Party officials say satisfaction in the district is high with all three Democratic legislators currently in office, including Durst.
"I know during the legislative session [Durst] was an absolute workhorse, and you can kind of look at his record," Dean Ferguson, Idaho Democratic Party spokesman, said. "He came up with a lot of proposals, a lot of bills, and also worked really hard to reach out to Republicans to cosponsor this work. I think he did a really good job representing a district that wants independent minded democrats representing them in the legislature."
Senate President Pro Tempore: Discussion has been open with Durst
Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill found out about Durst's living arrangements through KTVB in September and said it was worth speaking with Durst and investigating if the constituents and legislature were being served adequately. To be clear, there is nothing illegal about a legislator living outside of his or her district.
Hill says the two spoke frequently in recent months about his family life and politics, and based on those conversations, he believes Durst is doing the right thing for his family. Hill says Durst felt he was adequately serving constituents, and he takes Durst's word as true.
"Senator Durst and I have been talking quite a bit in the last few months with some of the circumstances going on with his family and the legislature and some of the criticism he's received at times. So it wasn't a complete surprise. I was proud of him though, to tell you the truth. He's putting his family ahead of his political career. That's very admirable. I think he's doing the right thing," Hill said.
Republican leadership says there was no pressure on Durst to step down
Although there were conversations between the senators, Hill says those in his party leadership did nothing to force Durst to resign.
"I don't know what went on within the Democratic caucus, I'm not sure what conversations went on there. But certainly from senate leadership on our side, there was no pressure put on him," Hill said.
Hill does not anticipate bringing up any proposals to change legislation to require legislators to live within their districts.
"Obviously, any representative wants to represent their people and therefore they should probably be in their district much of the time, if not most of the time. But the statute is fairly silent about it, and I don't see us particularly addressing that with some of the other things we have to deal with this coming session," Hill said.
The next steps for District 18
A candidate recruitment committee will now be formed to screen applicants and find a replacement for Durst. The District 18 Central Committee will pick three nominees that will be submitted to Gov. Butch Otter, who will choose one. This process will be complete by January 1.
Democrats who live in District 18 and are interested in being considered for the vacant Senate position can visit the Idaho Democratic Party website and take a short survey: http://idahodems.org/district-18-legislative-vacancy/.