Idaho Republicans mourn staffer Brenda Maynard Walters, dead at 46

Brenda Maynard Walters, an expert on immigration and international adoption issues and a key aide to Gov. Butch Otter and former Sen. Larry Craig, died Wednesday at her home in Boise.

Walters, 46, had knee surgery on Monday. About 4 a.m. Wednesday, she woke up to use the restroom and suffered a pulmonary embolism, said her former boss and former Otter campaign manager Debbie Field.

“She died in her husband’s arms,” said Field on Thursday. As word of her death spread on Facebook Wednesday, Field said, “Every time I read a post, I couldn’t quit crying.”

“She was just a wonderful person,” said Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian. “It has everyone just stunned.”

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“She was such a bright light in all of our lives,” said Idaho Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna. “Brenda was my dearest friend and I am heartbroken over her loss. She is the most loyal, compassionate, selfless person I know and I will miss her every day.”

Walters’ husband, Nathan Walters, owns a flooring business. The couple had no children.

Walters was deputy campaign manager of Otter’s 2010 re-election, responsible for the website, social media, mail fundraising and Sunshine Law compliance. Field said Walters had a big personality and tenacious loyalty. “She worked for people she really believed in,” Field said. “And she was never afraid to put people in their place.”

Walters grew up in Sundance, Wyo., the Crook County seat with a population of 1,200, where her parents ran a tavern, Field said. She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1997 with a degree in political science. In 1998, she began a decade on Craig’s staff, working as a staff assistant, casework director and, for the final six months of Craig’s 28 years in Congress, regional director.

“She stayed until the very end,” said Field, herself a former congressional staffer, six-term state legislator from Boise and Otter’s drug czar from 2007-2011. “When you hear the phrase ‘Everybody should make their country their career,’ Brenda lived that.”

Field said her son, Jeremy, asked her Wednesday, “How could anybody that fills a room with Brenda’s personality be gone?”

After Otter’s re-election, Walters operated her own consulting firm for candidates and nonprofits. She also worked for the City Club of Boise. In May, she began a new job as senior immigration administrator in the Energy and Construction Division at URS Corp. Walters was known for her dogged work negotiating the bureaucracy of immigration and adoption law when she worked for Craig.

“I have never seen a caseworker like Brenda,” Field said. “And I’ve been around a lot of them. She was fierce. You want a Brenda on your side.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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