Election Central

Rep. Ward-Engelking to seek Durst Senate seat in Southeast Boise

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, says she will submit her name for appointment to complete the second year of the term of Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise.

“I’m hoping I can be a strong voice for education, but not just that — for resources and agriculture, too,” said Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher who grew up in a family of farmers and teachers.

Ward-Engelking, a freshman, won’t have competition from her senior colleague, four-term Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise. “I want to stay in the House,” King said. “I’m happy with the people I work with and I want to stay on JFAC (the budget committee).”

Durst, whose family has been living in Washington state since his wife got a job there, submitted his resignation to Gov. Butch Otter, effective Dec. 1. “He just decided he need to be closer to his family,” said Ward-Engelking, who said she spoke with Durst Tuesday, after he’d submitted his letter.

The vacancy will be filled by Otter, who will choose from three nominees submitted by the Democrats’ District 18 Committee. The committee is made up of precinct committeemen and committeewomen, with 11 of the 18 precincts filled, said District 18 Chairman John Goettche. The committee must submit the names by Dec. 16. An application is available online.

Goettche said he’s heard informal interest from about a half-dozen Democrats, but invited any Democrat to apply. “We are encouraging anybody who’s interested to be sure to apply. We don’t know who’s out there. There could be a highly qualified person that hasn’t been talked about informally. We want that person to have that opportunity.”

Though tradition holds that a House member is often picked to fill a Senate vacancy, there are exceptions. In 2009, Otter named GOP activist Melinda Smyser of Parma to replace Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, choosing her over Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett.

Ward-Engelking said she’s not taking anything for granted, from the committee’s choice to the governor’s decision. “There are quite a few qualified people,” she said. “I’m hopeful, but I also know it’s an election year and this is politics.”

If Ward-Engelking is chosen, District 18 Democrats would meet again to choose three nominees to complete her House term.

I asked Ward-Engelking this hypothetical: If the committee nominates you but the governor chooses another candidate, would you run for the Senate?

That depends, said Ward-Engelking. “My goal is to keep three Democrats in District 18. I’ll do what’s right for the party.”



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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