Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.
Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.

I’ll be honest. I was only interested in the gubernatorial and Superintendent of Education debates because my vote was not decided.  Now it is.  What follows is my interpretation and analysis of the debates and who I will voted for.  I don’t feel the need to pull an Alison Grimes.

Gubernatorial: The Idaho gubernatorial debate on Tuesday featured Governor Butch Otter, Democrat A.J. Balukoff and Constitution candidate Steve Pankey.  Minus Pankey, both Otter and Balukoff performed well.

Gay Marriage: Otter and Pankey oppose but Otter allowed the ban to expire.  Otter did seem to disagree with the idea of the Supremacy Clause but partisans of all stripes do when the  federal government or courts mandate they undertake an act they oppose.  Balukoff is on board with gay marriage.

Education: This is what Balukoff’s entire campaign is premised on and he did not pull punches when discussing the issue.  He recited Idaho’s lack of funding, 50th in the nation, teacher morale at all time lows and more.  Otter defended his record, as expected, and pointed to the fact his taskforce is coming up with a plan to pay teachers more in the future.  Both Balukoff and Pankey think teachers are underpaid.  Otter hedged.  But while Otter was hammered on education Balukoff probably suffered a fatal campaign blow when asked whether he would raise taxes to fund education.  Balukoff responded that he would not.  When pressed on the issue Balukoff said the rainy day fund, cutting pork and not wasting money on frivolous lawsuits (I assume he meant gay marriage) would pay for increased funding.  I can do math.  Nope, they cannot.  Further, Balukoff compounded his funding problem by saying he would support repealing the 1 cent sales tax increase of 2006 and instead allow local school districts to bump up property taxes.  In other words, property tax protections would be eliminated for homeowners and the onus of funding for districts would be put on local entities (not the state).  Translation: Balukoff simply wants to do a tax shift.  By not saying taxes or fees might need to be increased and that he would contemplate eliminating prop tax protections he just lost the suburbs and the election.  He also lost my vote!

Working with the Legislature: Pankey said God would help him overcome issues with the legislature.  Otter defended the legislature he has often fought with and argued he essentially has strong connections with members and leadership.  Balukoff pointed to his time as head of the BSD Board of Trustees.  When pressed that many legislators are more ideological than members of the local board Balukoff repeated his previous statement that he believes compromise can be found.

Medicaid Expansion: Both Pankey and Otter oppose Medicaid Expansion while Balukoff is all in.  As expected, Balukoff argued that the expansion would allow Idaho to receive federal dollars to treat the uninsured sick and poor.  It would also cover those in the “coverage gap.”  Notably, Balukoff hit Otter for ignoring his own Medicaid task force’s recommendations.  Otter responded he had not expanded Medicaid because he was concerned about the overall cost.  Not to mention it would be impossible to get through the legislature. But hey, let’s whine about the national debt but rollover and let the Fed rack up more debt to pay for a new state program.  Yah!

Best Attacks: Balukoff scored points against Otter on education and Medicaid expansion.  However, his failure to outline how he would fund increased education spending will haunt him outside Boise.  Otter’s best moments were his attacks against the federal government and highlighting technology in the classroom.  Pankey, well, he didn’t score any points.

Vote: I am going with Otter.  He is not my first choice by far, but he knows how to work with the legislature and has experience.  He may be shortchanging education and fought gay marriage but Balukoff’s inability to explain where he will get hundreds of millions to fund K-12 and increase education is a politician’s answer.  Balukoff’s campaign theme is that he is something different.  But after tonight, he showed me he is just another politician who in four years will fix little.  But hey, he could pull an Obama and blame Republicans.

Superintendent: The Superintendent race features two experienced candidates. Republican Sherri Ybarra, a federal programs Director for rural school districts, and Democrat Jana Jones, who has worked in state government under multiple administrations on a host of important issues.  Both seem extremely talented and they largely agree on the issues.  Hence, the debate focused on several nuances.

Taxes: This might be more of a reflection on the moderator’s lack of understanding of the Superintendent’s role but both candidates were asked for their stances on taxes, funding and the budget.  Both were squeamish. Jones said she would not use Luna’s outgoing budget, oppose raising taxes and look for other ways to equalize school funding.  Like Balukoff, however, she failed to espouse much on those ideas.  Ybarra, after dodging the question, said she would use Luna’s budget, oppose new taxes and allow districts to have more flexibility in how they spend their funds.

Experience/Job Role: Both candidates are extremely experienced but they had a sparring match over what exactly a federal programs manager does, specifically in regards to being a Chief Financial Officer.  Regardless, it seems to make little difference.  You don’t need to be an accountant to be Superintendent.

Voting History: News has come out that Sherri Ybarra has had an erratic history of voting in elections.  To me the question was irrelevant, however, to others it could show that she is unqualified to be in government.  Ybarra said she was running to make amends, Jones says it reflects on Ybarra’s qualifications to be Superintendent.

Common Core: The big question in the room was Common Core.  Both candidates support it.  However, both feel that it does not allow local districts flexibility on how best to educate kids.  Ybarra, as is expected of a Republican, particularly hammered this point home.

Link to Luna: Outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna is unpopular.  But he has offered his office and aid to whoever is the winner in November.  Rather surprisingly. Ybarra said she would accept Luna’s offers of aid.  Jones said she would not.  Ybarra runs the risk of linking herself to Luna whose Republican affiliation does not dissuade voters from disliking him.  Both candidates hedged when asked about the repealed Luna Laws.

Working with the Legislature: Weatherby seems fond of asking questions about how candidates would work with the legislature.  Ybarra, said she has connections with leadership and their endorsements.  She would push them to support educational initiatives and increased funding.  Jones, as is the usual for a Democrat, said she would build connections with the legislature and find common ground (like on K-12, good luck).

Vote: The candidates agree on many issues.  Further, their experience is honestly unmatched.  However, much as I worried about Balukoff, Jones did not convince me she could work with a GOP legislature nor not spar with a conservative State Board of Education.  She may have worked in prior GOP administrations but she never had to present or defend budgets to an ideologically opposite legislative body.  Ybarra, as a Republican, has more ins, and she seems sufficiently experienced to learn from Luna’s experiences/failures.  Her drive to allow districts more spending flexibility, something Luna has not done, would in my opinion be a major boon to many struggling rural districts.  As such, I voted for Ybarra.  However, I would not be disappointed if Jones won either based on her experience.


There you go folks!!!


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