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Otter’s challenger launches first campaign ad of race

BOISE – The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff.

“Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.

“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.”

The ad stresses both Balukoff’s business credentials and his longtime service as chairman of the Boise School Board, a post in which he took a high-profile stand against the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, which Otter and GOP Schools Superintendent Tom Luna championed. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the laws in 2012.

The commercial shows Balukoff on a mountaintop, in a board room, in a busy warehouse, working at his desk, in a classroom with teachers, and outside the Capitol.

The opening of the ad, while it mentions “business as usual in Boise,” features a narrowly framed view of the state Capitol as seen between tall buildings to its south. Then it jumps to a wide-open, sunlit view of Balukoff in the mountains.

“The wilderness setting is always good, and successful Democratic candidates have used that for years,” Weatherby said.

The business successes that Balukoff makes reference to in the commercial are extensive. In his 31 years in Boise, he’s started a small accounting firm that he then expanded; bought a health club that he then expanded into a small chain before selling to a national company; and worked with partners to build the Grove Hotel downtown and create the hockey team that plays there in the building’s large public arena, the Idaho Steelheads.

“There are over 400 jobs just associated with the Grove Hotel,” Balukoff’s campaign spokesman, Mike Lanza, said. He noted that the hotel and hockey team regularly attract thousands of people to downtown Boise, benefiting area businesses including restaurants.

Balukoff holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Brigham Young University. He promises in the commercial to “balance the books and end the insider deals.”

Lanza said that reference is to everything from the state’s just-ended private prison contract to the wrongful firing settlement Idaho had to pay its former transportation director after she charged she was fired for resisting expansion of a multimillion-dollar contract with two well-connected firms.

“He wants to return efficiency to the state and not have incidents like this where millions of dollars are being wasted that could go into public schools, transportation, roads and bridges and other needs in Idaho,” Lanza said.

Balukoff also says in the commercial that he’ll “put partisanship aside.” Idaho currently has Republicans in all of its state offices and more than 80 percent of its legislative seats. “A.J. is someone who is not at all a partisan person,” Lanza said. Though he’s a Democrat, “He’s supported Republicans in the past, including Mitt Romney.” Lanza said Balukoff is “a big believer in bringing stakeholder parties together on an issue and working out solutions that make sense.”

The ad began running Tuesday morning in southern and eastern Idaho, and is tentatively scheduled to start in the Spokane TV market in the “next week or two,” depending on fundraising, Lanza said.

Jayson Ronk, Otter’s campaign manager, had no comment on the Balukoff ad.