Democrat Branden Durst represented the southeast Boise area in the Idaho House for two terms after his elections in 2006 and 2008, and then for about a year in the Idaho Senate after his election in 2012. In November 2013, having half-moved to Washington state, he resigned.
This year, situated full-time in southern Pierce County (county seat: Tacoma), he’s running again, now for a House seat in Washington’s 29th district.
In the early days of most of our western states there was nothing unusual about running for office, sequentially, in multiple states; many of Idaho’s early lawmakers did, spreading expertise gathered in sundry statehouses. In more recent decades, political people in most states have found more electoral strength in emphasizing local roots over job experience. Among recent Idaho legislators, only Senator Steve Vick, R-Hayden, comes to mind as having been elected to another state’s legislature (the Montana House). If anyone knows of another in recent years, let me know. Nationally, it’s not unknown, but rare.
The similarities and differences of running in different states surely offer some insights single-state candidates don’t see. I asked Durst last week about some of those.
He is running in District 29, a mostly suburban area reaching south of Tacoma, including such communities as Lakewood and Parkland. That area actually is a lot like Durst’s old southeast Boise district, including its at-present Democratic lean. Durst is challenging an incumbent Democratic representative, David Sawyer of Parkland. There’s also a Republican, Rick Thomas, in the race.
For all that Washington is classed as a Democratic “blue” state in the presidential election, its legislature is split closely between the two parties, with a Republican Senate and Democratic House.
A number of legislative issues track across state lines. Public school financing is a hot topic in Washington. There as in Idaho the state supreme court has said the legislature has not adequately addressed that funding, but in Washington, the court has gone further and held the legislature in contempt, and imposed fines. It’s a subject of widespread discussion.
One obvious campaign difference from Idaho is the “top two” element. Durst and both other candidates in the August primary election each are seeking to do better than come in third; whichever two do progress on to November, even if they’re of the same party. November becomes a runoff. Mostly around the state this still means a Democrat and a Republican running against each other in November, but not always.
Another difference, which pops up in the practicalities of running, is that outsiders have a harder time there gaining traction than they do in Idaho. In Idaho, candidates can (and often should) do a good deal of work before formally filing for office in March, but they don’t have to. In Washington, most of the campaign finance, organization and other work is long since done by the time a candidate formally files in May. Major endorsing organizations too have made their donation or other support decisions far in advance of May, Durst said, and “if you’re new to the political process you’d have almost no chance of being successful.”
They need more resources too than in Idaho. A legislative district in Washington has several times as many people as those in Idaho, and campaign budgets and organizations typically are several times as large. In 2014, Representative Sawyer and his main opponent each spent more than $90,000, but that’s on the low side; many competitive campaigns in Washington have quarter-million dollar budgets. That’s far more than the norm in Idaho.
“In Idaho, individual candidates have a little more control over their individual destiny,” Durst said.
And he said that in Washington, “there’s much more transparency in finance here,” with state agencies that require extensive filing of campaign and personal finances. The downside is that this can rapidly become complex and difficult: “people are expected to pay for a consultant, and consultants aren't cheap ... That would be unheard of in Idaho.”
Still, he said, the basics are the basics. Knocking on doors and shaking hands is not so different in any state.
“The fundamentals are the same, wherever you live.”