The race for governor lurched into high gear last week, as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group that represents the state’s largest businesses, launched an independent campaign against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, including a website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com.”
“A.J. Balukoff wants Idahoans to think he’s some kind of level-headed moderate,” said Alex LaBeau, IACI chief. He said his group will seek to counter that impression and tie Balukoff to Democratic President Barack Obama, drawing on everything from Balukoff’s voting record as a Boise school board member to his campaign website.
Balukoff, a prominent Boise businessman, Mitt Romney supporter and longtime chairman of the local school board, immediately branded the attack website a “slander campaign,” and called on the board of IACI – which includes an array of business leaders – to take it down. “This website is filled with lies and gross misrepresentations in a transparent attempt to mislead voters,” Balukoff wrote to the IACI board. “It demonstrates an appalling lack of integrity.”
IACI refused. Mike Reynoldson, IACI board member, immediate past chairman of the board and director of government affairs for Micron Technology, said he stands by the “LiberalAJ” website. Asked his reaction to Balukoff’s letter, Reynoldson said, “First-time candidate who maybe isn’t all that used to the political process. Obviously he’s upset that the website points out his positions, and so he’s trying to detract from that by making this request.”
Asked why his group decided to launch the effort, LaBeau said, “We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t just one side of the issue getting out there. We wanted to make sure that people understood there are two sides to this campaign.”
Balukoff is challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak also is in the race, running as a Libertarian. The ballot also includes independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson; and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey.
Balukoff, for his part, sent out a detailed guest opinion to Idaho newspapers last week laying out his vision for the state’s economy. “Under the state’s current leadership, our economy has plummeted,” he wrote. “Today, Idaho’s families work harder for less.”
He called for more funding for both K-12 and higher education; targeted help for existing businesses, including infrastructure improvements; and “building a better Idaho brand,” saying, “My opponent has perpetrated the stereotype that Idaho is a backwater haven for political extremists. His divisive policies have driven Idaho to the bottom economically. Inadequate education investment and a national media spotlight on our foibles are bad for business. A governor should know that.”
Otter’s campaign had no response to Balukoff’s piece, and was mum on the IACI campaign, launched through the business group’s political action committee, the Idaho Prosperity Fund.
But Otter was out doing lots of official stuff as governor last week, from conducting a “Capital for a Day” session in DuBois on Tuesday to presiding over the state Land Board on Thursday, and cutting a ribbon for a new highway extension and bridge in Boise on Friday. He also was spotted on Monday filming part of a campaign commercial at a Boise Albertsons store.
Big bucks expected
Idaho’s state endowment is expecting to make at least $30 million later this month from an auction of state-owned cabin sites on Priest Lake – an estimate state officials call “conservative” – and another $13 million from another auction at Payette Lake in December.
The auctions are part of the state’s plan to eventually get out of the business of renting lakefront lots to people who build and own their own cabins on them.
Not backing ex-rival
Unsuccessful state school superintendent hopeful Randy Jensen, who placed second in the four-way GOP primary, falling to Sherri Ybarra, says he never authorized Ybarra to list him as a member of her campaign team, nor has he endorsed either candidate in the general election race between Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones. Ybarra had listed Jensen as a member of her five-member campaign team on her website; after he objected, she removed his name last week, saying it was a misunderstanding.