BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Senate Republicans have issued a strongly worded statement, signed by every member of Senate GOP leadership, condemning the actions of former state Sen. Branden Durst, now a candidate for state schools superintendent, in confronting and threatening retaliation against a senator after a Senate panel declined to introduce Durst's proposed bill.
"It is clear ... that Mr. Durst acted inappropriately in this situation," said the statement issued late Friday, condemning his "bad behavior."
"Following this episode, Mr. Durst then used social media to politicize the event," the statement said. "These spurious attacks against members of the Senate, meant to coerce votes and influence elections, should be denounced by all Idahoans."
The statement also cited "Durst's egregious conduct unbecoming of anyone, especially a former legislator and current statewide political candidate."
Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sandpoint, told Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” that Durst approached him after last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting and threatened political retribution for voting against introducing a parental rights draft bill that Durst had presented.
Woodward told Idaho Reports that after the hearing, Durst “came right to me” and said “something along the lines of, ‘That was a bad vote, you should not have done that. We’re going to use that in your f—ing campaign. Herndon has a copy of this bill.’ Which is Scott Herndon, who’s my opponent in the primary.”
Herndon is an anti-abortion activist and the current chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee.
“And so I said, ‘Are you threatening me?’ I leaned into him. And then the ISP officers came in and it kind of toned down,” Woodward said.
Committee member Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, confirmed to Idaho Reports that a confrontation took place and that ISP was involved.
“I did not hear anything, but I did see Branden get into Sen. Woodward’s face,” Ward-Engelking said. “And then I did see the Idaho State Police come in and talk to Branden Durst and kind of escort him out.”
Woodward said he and fellow committee member Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, returned to the Senate offices, where Durst showed up again.
“He came up to that office suite and we had another discussion. And that went about the same, and then he left,” Woodward said. “There was never any physical contact, but there were definitely some words exchanged. He knows right where I stand.”
ISP was present at the Senate offices as well, Woodward said.
Idaho Education News reported that Senate leadership had met on Wednesday morning to discuss the incident.
The Senate GOP statement also said Durst was invited to meet with GOP leaders as they investigated the incident, but didn’t show up.
Durst sent out a tweet after the statement was issued, saying, “I sent multiple emails to Senate Leadership offering to speak by phone. I also shared many concerns with Senator Woodward’s behavior and never received a reply.” He also sent several other tweets, including one saying in part, "The entirety of leadership is backing my opponent and this 'statement' is politically motivated."
Durst is a former Democratic state senator from Boise now running as a far-right Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. Also running in the GOP primary is former state Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield. Current two-term GOP state Superintendent Sherri Ybarra has not yet announced her re-election plans, but she reported raising nearly $20,000 since last spring for her campaign. No Democratic candidate has yet stepped forward; the primary election is May 17.
Idaho Public Television reporter Logan Finney contributed to this report, as did Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert and Idaho Press reporter Betsy Z. Russell.
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