With Idaho’s 2018 primary election just around the corner, Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidates A.J. Balukoff and Paulette Jordan spoke in separate interviews with the Daily News in the past two weeks to update readers on their respective campaigns, comment on the highlights and clear up any rumors before voters take to the polls May 15.
Both have traveled far and wide across the state during the past few months, working to scoop up any last-minute supporters and gain more name recognition before one of them is dropped from the gubernatorial race within the next week. Balukoff, a 72-year-old Boise native, developer and longtime school board member, said recent trips to Boise, Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Driggs and Pocatello have put “a bunch” of extra miles on his Suburban, while Jordan, a 38-year-old former member of the Idaho House of Representatives, spoke of her travels to Jerome, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Arco.
Things are a bit different on the campaign trail this time around for Balukoff, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in 2014 and entered the gubernatorial race again last year. Balukoff now faces a challenger in the primary, which forced him to start spending more money and campaigning sooner, he said. According to an April 20 Spokesman-Review report, Balukoff is the second-highest spender on television ads in Idaho this year, behind Republican
gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist, who donated $5,000 to Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014. Jordan had released an online ad, according to the report, but no television ads.
“This time, since we have a competitive primary, I feel like I have to spend a bunch, because the name recognition is not there yet,” Balukoff said. “I’m kind of re-introducing myself.”
Jordan’s potential to become both the first female and first Native American governor of Idaho has generated its own buzz in the media, sparking coverage everywhere from Teen Vogue to Buzzfeed. Endorsements from Planned Parenthood and popstar Cher have also thrust the Plummer native’s campaign into the spotlight.
Balukoff, on the other hand, has been able to do something Jordan has not – secure the endorsements of several of Jordan’s fellow democratic lawmakers, despite never having served in an elected office other than as a member of the Boise School Board.
Both Balukoff and Jordan have stated they want to make education a priority in the state. In talks with the Daily News, Jordan discussed implementing a statewide opt-in preschool program and investing in technical programs for high school students, while Balukoff mentioned attracting and retaining qualified teachers and using state surplus money to fund public education.
Both said they do not support arming teachers in schools, though Balukoff added it should be up to school boards to decide how to protect their schools.
The topic of guns gave Jordan the chance to clear up a rumor that she voted in favor of “stand your ground” legislation that was introduced in the statehouse earlier this year.
While she called the legislation “irresponsible,” Jordan joined 13 Republicans on the House State Affairs Committee in casting an affirmative vote to introduce such legislation in January, something she said she did for her constituents, who had asked her for a fair shake on the issue.
“It was hard for me, because I disagree with the legislation completely,” Jordan said. “I think it has raised homicide rates in the states that have passed it.”
The incident caused some, even the Daily News editorial board, to question whether Jordan was pandering to the right. But Jordan said she is the most progressive candidate in the race, something she sees as a strength in a state she said is not as conservative as everyone makes it out to be.
Unlike his Democratic opponent, Balukoff said he is unsure whether he considers himself the most progressive candidate in the race or not, but he prides himself on being able to work across party lines.
Rather than focus on the progressive label, Balukoff said he would rather talk about the policies for which he is in favor – funding public schools, not spending more than the state takes in, supporting the “Add the Words” campaign and withholding governor interference with a woman’s body.
One topic he appears less progressive on than Jordan: marijuana.
The two displayed noticeable differences in their opinions on the topic during an April 21 debate in Boise, where Jordan declared her support for legalization of the drug, while Balukoff said he opposed its recreational use but supported reclassification of the drug to undergo more scientific studies.
The two have personally seen varying opinions on the matter from their constituents. Jordan said there are more people favorable for the drug’s decriminalization in the state, while Balukoff said the topic has not come up so much on his campaign trail, though when it does, it is usually about medical marijuana.
Balukoff has previously said he doubted the issue would even make it to his desk if he were elected, while Jordan said she would specifically bring back legislation to legalize cannabis oil if she were governor.
Asked about their predictions for the primary, Balukoff said he remains optimistic and believes he has a better background than Jordan, though he does not deny the serious challenge she brings to the primary.
Jordan highlighted her experience in politics and her rural background as key distinguishing factors as a candidate and said she, too, has had chances to work with people across the aisle. Asked whether she believed she would snag the primary vote, Jordan said, “We’re really focused on the generals.”
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