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Branden Durst

"If you look at the Democratic Senate Caucus, we’re stronger than we were before.”



Shortly after his Nov. 6 election to the Idaho Senate, Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst visited Vallivue High School, where he heard a teacher urge her students to "develop a vision."

When Durst was the students' age, he had more than a vision; he had a very specific plan.

"I thought it was kind of weird at the time, but I had a timeline," he remembered. "I said I wanted to finish my bachelor's degree by the age of 22, and I mapped out when I wanted to be married, have kids and first run for office."

In the days leading up to the start of the 2013 Legislature, Durst sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about his timeline, his expectations for the current session and how his faith and family informs his work as a lawmaker.

You're about to have a birthday (Durst turns 33 on Jan. 15), but you'll still be one of the youngest people at the Statehouse.

I'll be the youngest in the Senate and the third-youngest in the Legislature. My understanding is that [Rep.] Luke Malek from Coeur d'Alene and [Caldwell Rep.] Brandon Hixon are both younger than I am. But when I was first elected to the House in 2006, I was the youngest. It wasn't even close.

But when you wrote out your timeline, you probably didn't anticipate losing an election.

There were some things that happened a little differently than I had expected.

How badly did you hurt from your 2010 defeat (to GOP candidate Mitch Toryanski by 103 votes)?

It particularly hurts when you get beat by such a small margin. I learned a lot about myself and about what was important.

I took it for granted. I always worked hard and wanted to do a good job, but I always assumed I would be here. The past two years I was out of the Legislature were excruciating. I was a fish out of water, flipping around on the beach, gasping for air. That's how I felt.

How much time passed before you decided to run again?

My grandfather died about three weeks after the election. He was one of the most formative people I had in my life.

And then my wife filed for divorce three months later. We ended up not getting a divorce, but that five-month period was the hardest of my entire life. I spent four months living by myself. But my wife and I reconciled. Marriage is an ongoing process. Essentially, this has to be a family decision instead of a Branden decision.

Is your lawmaker persona primarily informed by being a husband and father?

It's a big component, as is my faith.

What church do you attend?

The Vineyard in Garden City. I grew up in the Church of the Brethren; it's a pacificist church, much like the Quaker and Mennonite churches.

And how does that define you socially or culturally?

I feel very strongly about helping the poor as much as possible. It's my job to help those who can't help themselves. Environmental regulation is another example: recognizing that if we ruin the Earth, we ruin something that was created for us to use, not destroy.

One of the strongest differences between you and your opponent is that Sen. Toryanski openly supported the ultrasound measure (which would have required Idaho women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound).

I'm pro-life but I still opposed that from day one. It was a terrible idea.

How does your faith reconcile that?

It's easy. The church I was raised in strongly believes in the importance of conscience when making decisions. You don't remove someone's free will. And a woman has a right to say "no" to such a procedure. The discussion is over.

You'll be serving on the Senate Education Committee this session. I'm presuming that the Legislature has to start from scratch in crafting new policies considering voters roundly rejected the Luna Laws.

We have to position ourselves so that we build a quality education system where Idaho students can be successful, but there are some real fundamental differences on that. Unfortunately, there's a lot of ideology that gets in the way of making right choices.

The Idaho State School Board Association hinted that it's advocating for legislation that looks pretty similar to the original Luna Laws.

I don't have a lot of positive things to say about the ISBA. The Boise School District Board should go ahead and withdraw from that organization. The ISBA governance model makes no sense: every school district gets the same number of votes, regardless of size. The Boise School District gets the same vote as the Ririe school district. That's problematic.

Do you think the ISBA is on a path toward becoming obsolete?

That's a choice that they need to make. It's much like the United Nations. If the Boise School District pulled out of the ISBA much like the United States pulling out of the U.N., they couldn't afford to exist and the ISBA wouldn't exist without the Boise School District's funding.

Will you sponsor or co-sponsor legislation during this session?

Oh, yeah. That's the favorite part of my job. I had about 20-plus bills I was working on, and then I start paring them down. I'll ultimately have about eight.

The Idaho Democratic Party has quite a few new faces at the Statehouse this year, due to a number of retirements.

We lost some institutional knowledge, but I think if you look at the Democratic Senate Caucus, we're stronger than we were before. We're in a better position to be more successful.

Isn't there a good chance that we'll see some Republican-based legislation that will deal with the right to bear arms in Idaho, trumping federal restrictions?

I'm always wary of legislation that says the state is superior to the federal government. Secondly, we're in Idaho and no one is coming to take our guns. If there's concern about curbing violence, those are important discussions. But for me, it's more about mental illness, because our state does an atrocious job of addressing mental illness problems.

Is politics still a noble calling for your generation?

When people say I'm a politician, I say "no, no, no." I'm a public servant, and there's a difference. But public servants deserve to have a negative reputation. It's been earned.

But how do you get the best and brightest back into public service?

Take a look at the people who have left the Idaho Legislature in the past few election cycles. The vast majority of them, younger people, couldn't afford to be here anymore.

The hours are pretty long at the Statehouse. How do you carve out time for your family?

I've always excluded Sundays from business. I never even campaign on Sundays. It's all about faith and family. On Saturday, I'm on a lot of sidelines. My oldest son plays football and baseball, my middle son plays tennis, and my youngest son plays soccer. My daughter is a dancer. She can toe-touch for about three minutes straight. It's amazing.

And what do you do for fun?

This is my fun. I work the rest of the year to help pay for my habit. This is the fun part of the year. It's a passion. I know how important the work is here, but I love the intrigue and the interplay.

When you were 14, how far did your life's timeline go?

To the age of 40, where I said I would be a United States senator.

But you're a Democrat in Idaho.

We haven't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in my lifetime. I think that's pretty profound.

Do you see yourself ever moving to another state?

You can take a potato out of a field and it's still a potato.


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