Odd couple lawmakers team up on education bills

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm •  Published: April 7, 2013
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — When the Senate Education Committee convened in a basement wing of the Capitol during the 2013 Legislature, Sen. Steven Thayn and Sen. Branden Durst took their seats at opposite ends of the panel's long, mahogany-stained table, separated as much physically as they may seem politically and personally.

Thayn is a demure, conservative 59-year-old former Spanish teacher from the town of Emmett, with eight children and 18 years under his belt as a dairy farmer.

Durst is a 33-year-old Democrat from Boise's southeast side, notably outspoken and a partner at a marketing and political research firm during the legislative offseason.

But in many ways, the two first-term senators share more in common than their age, background and party affiliation suggests.

Both have a knack for bucking their respective party's playbook. They've also found common ground working together on new ideas for public education, long one of the state's most vexing policy issues.

During the legislative session that ended last Thursday, this political odd couple teamed up on two bills aimed at providing high school students a faster path to college.

"I think if you're looking for a golden thread that connects all of the things we've done, we're looking at ways to help students advance their academic credentials and achievement in innovative ways," Durst said.

To Durst, such across-the-aisle partnership is a rarity in a statehouse so heavily dominated by Republicans. Both recognize and relish the unique quality of their relationship.

"It's nice in some instances, although they're very rare, that we can work together to get things done," Durst said.

Aside from the common ground they share on education, the pair has other similarities that draw them together. Both share a love for soccer. Durst's son, Carter, and Thayn's grandson, Lincoln, were born on the same day, each named after U.S. Presidents.

Both also prefer voting their conscience instead of the official party line.

For example, Thayn, as a member of the House last year, objected to GOP-sponsored legislation requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo a mandatory ultrasound, citing unnecessary government overreach.

Last month, Thayn was the sole Republican to join Democrats on the Education Committee opposing a school board-backed bill he argues would unfairly tie teachers' hands during collective bargaining negotiations.

"The problem with Republicans, in my opinion, is they're more reactive especially when it comes to education," he said. "I want to work with people to solve problems rather than just taking ideological stands ... I ruffle a few feathers here and there, but I see things that need to be done."



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