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Profane exchange between Republicans follows rejection of parental rights bill in Idaho Senate

Politics

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Senate Republican leadership met Wednesday morning to discuss a pair of profane Statehouse exchanges Tuesday afternoon, involving GOP state superintendent’s candidate Branden Durst and GOP state Sen. Jim Woodward.

The exchange came moments after the Senate Education Committee rejected a parental rights bill proposed by Durst and Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett. The committee voted down the bill on a deadlocked 4-4 vote. Woodward, R-Sagle, voted against the bill.

Capitol police interceded during both exchanges — the first in the Senate Education meeting room moments after Tuesday’s vote, and the second in Woodward’s Statehouse office.

Both Durst and Woodward accuse each other of using profanities, but they agree on one central point. During their exchange in the committee room, Durst said he would use Woodward’s vote against him in the 2022 elections.

Their accounts differ on other key points.

Woodward says he did not feel physically threatened. Durst says Woodward “poked a finger in my chest.”

Durst says he went to Woodward’s office to apologize, repeatedly, for approaching him after the vote to threaten political retribution. “That wasn’t the time and the place, and I acknowledged it,” Durst told Idaho Education News.

Woodward told Idaho Education News he had no recollection of such an apology and says Durst came to the office to continue the exchange that started in the committee room.

On Wednesday, Woodward said he did not file a police report, and hopes the matter will go away. Durst said he contacted Senate leadership and asked them to retain security footage from Tuesday.

“Frankly, when the video that comes out, it’ll be clear who was really the aggressor in the situation,” Durst said Wednesday.

Idaho Education News requested the same footage, via a public records request with the Department of Administration, and is yet to receive a response. Idaho Education News also asked for comment from Idaho State Police, and filed a public records request seeking documents and internal communications related to the exchange. Police responded that the availability of such records “is not immediately known,” and could take up to 10 days to collect.

Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and GOP Caucus Chair Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, confirmed that leadership met to discuss the matter Wednesday morning, but declined further comment.

The Durst-Zito bill, dubbed the “Idaho Parental Freedom in Education Act,” would have allowed parents to review all documents pertaining to their child’s education, visit schools and classrooms “without prior consent or notification,” and refuse medical devices or treatments.

On Wednesday, Woodward said he was concerned with one section of the bill, which would have left schools subject to civil penalties of up to $1,000. But Woodward did not debate or discuss the bill before casting his vote.

“It was really shocking that, as we walked out, he approached me and singled me out as a problem in this,” Woodward told Idaho Education News.

But Woodward also said it would be naïve for him to think the exchange was unrelated to the 2022 elections.

In a tweet from his campaign account Tuesday night, Durst criticized Woodward and Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, another opponent of his bill. “Two so-called Republican Senators joined with liberal Democrats on the Senate Education Committee this afternoon,” he wrote. “Republicans need to know how their Senators are voting.”

The confrontation comes at the beginning of a heated Republican primary season. Woodward already has an announced primary opponent: Scott Herndon of Sagle, chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee. Durst is one of two announced GOP candidates for state superintendent, along with former State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield. GOP incumbent Sherri Ybarra has not announced whether she will seek re-election.

And it also comes at the start of a session when legislators could consider several parental rights bills. The Durst-Zito bill was the first such bill to surface this session.

Durst said he will not change his approach at the Statehouse. “I’m going to continue to work with folks in the Legislature to get things done … The fact that two liberal Republicans don’t like my ideas is really immaterial to me.”

Woodward said he had never met Durst until Tuesday, but said the exchange made clear their differences on the bill in question.

“I think he knows where I stand on it. We talked it out a little bit.”

More reading: Logan Finney of “Idaho Reports” first reported on this story; here’s a link to his report.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on January 19, 2022

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