IDAHO FALLS — Branden Durst has put 50,000 miles on his car over the last 15 months as he’s traveled across Idaho campaigning to be the state’s next superintendent.
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, he says he’s learned firsthand what Idahoans have long believed — that the Gem State is like three different states in one. But amid all the differences, he’s also noticed a common theme among voters from Bear Lake to Boundary County.
“Parents are tired. They don’t feel respected or trusted and they want some real change in their school superintendent. They’re all talking about the same things. They want to stop the indoctrination that’s happening in their schools, they want to (be able) to make decisions for their kids,” Durst says.
Durst sells himself as a candidate who is not part of the system and for voters who are looking for a change in the establishment, Durst feels he’s the right man for the job and he’s asking for your vote on Tuesday.
Durst is one of three Republican candidates vying to become the party’s nominee. Incumbent Sherri Ybarra is also running, along with Debbie Critchfield. Whoever wins the primary will face off with Boise Democrat Terry Gilbert in November.
Durst grew up outside of Boise, where he got his start working in the public school system. His resume includes experience as a substitute teacher, high school coach and manager of a boys and girls tutoring program. He also worked as an instructor and curriculum developer at a community college.
“But it’s primarily my experience in … education policy, which is a better fit for the superintendent’s role because it’s an education policy management position,” says Durst.
Durst is a former state legislator, who was elected to the House in 2006, and later served in the Senate in 2013. One of his committee assignments during his time in public office included serving on the education committee.
One of his proudest accomplishments as a legislator is his role in co-creating the Advanced Opportunities program, which is geared toward helping students in 7th through 12th grade get a jump start on their future with dual credit, workforce training, certification exams and advanced placement.
“As a private citizen last year, I got the No Public Funds for Abortion Act passed into law. I worked on that bill for three years, and that was a big deal, too,” he says.
Durst and his wife, Cheri, were the target of child abuse allegations in December after his wife allegedly hit a child with a wooden spoon. Branden was accused of watching it happen and encouraging it.
Though Branden was not criminally charged, the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office charged Cheri with misdemeanor injury to a child. She pleaded not guilty to the charges during a court hearing last month.
Regarding the allegations, Durst provided his perspective and thoughts about what happened.
“My wife was falsely accused of abuse. It was not pursued any further and that case has been taken care of,” he explains. “The child wasn’t being respectful, wasn’t obeying … It wasn’t even very hard, but things can happen in the political world where things get taken out of proportion, and that’s what happened here. Frankly, I think if most parents actually knew what happened, they’d think, Gosh, I could be facing the same problem.”
Durst says the prosecutor’s office sought to get the case taken care of as quickly as possible and that “political shenanigans going on in the background were forcing people’s hands.”
Now that it’s over with, Durst says he and his wife just want to move on. For any voters who are concerned, Durst says you can call him directly at (208) 505-8893.
Durst cites “the lack of opportunity for kids and for parents” when it comes to finding the right fit for their educational needs. If elected, his main focus is to “re-orient the state department of education to make it parent-focused.”
“We spend so much time thinking about what school districts think about and not so much what parents think about,” he says. “From a policy standpoint, we’re going to push hard for school choice where the money follows the students.”
Visit Durst’s website to learn more.
The primary election is May 17. The general election is November 8.
WATCH THE INTERVIEW WITH DURST IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.