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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Balukoff can bring needed pragmatism to Idaho

Idaho needs new leadership at the top. The educational system suffers from neglect. Job growth beyond the minimum-wage variety has been poor. A scandal has marred the corrections system. And the state has made national headlines for its refusal to even hear proponents of expanding human rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens.

During this period of stagnation, Butch Otter has served two undistinguished terms as governor. At times, his head has been in the right place, but he hasn’t demonstrated the fortitude to press forward. His go-to solution has been to form task forces, or to call for studies. When the facts have come in, he’s been too tentative.

In 2010 and 2014 (both election years for him), he praised the Legislature’s “successful” sessions, though lawmakers made little to no progress on the road maintenance backlog and school funding. He signed an “ag-gag” bill that is an affront to free speech. He allowed guns on university campuses over the objections of college presidents. Two reports Otter commissioned have shown the state would benefit from taking the Medicaid expansion, but he has yet to press the matter.

The 2104 Legislature barely increased school funding, and the overall education budget remains below the 2009 level. The anemic increase came after the poorly conceived “Luna laws” were recalled by voters, and after the Legislature wisely jettisoned the tax cuts the governor originally called for.

Now, Otter touts the 20 recommendations of his education task force, but history suggests he might not follow through. To his credit, Otter has voiced strong support for the Common Core guidelines that will raise the state’s educational standards, and he hasn’t signed on to the fanciful notion that taking over federal lands will provide the revenue the state needs.

A.J. Balukoff is a conservative Democrat who voted for Mitt Romney, and he has a background in business. He is a retired certified public accountant and has served on many civic boards. He is the president of the Boise School District board of trustees.

While not well-known to North Idaho residents, Balukoff has demonstrated a solid grasp of the challenges facing Idaho. He thinks he can build the legislative coalitions necessary to make changes. We think that’s a tall order, but the state needs a leader who is willing to argue his case and issue some vetoes. He says the state should bolster schools, take the Medicaid expansion and expand human rights.

The state is in the throes of disruption as extreme candidates running on “liberty” platforms promise riches if the state will only assert itself. John Bujak, who is running as a Libertarian, is an example. He is well-meaning and articulate, but we oppose his agenda.

There are no simple solutions for Idaho. The state’s long road to improvement starts with its schools, which fare poorly in national comparisons. Many more young people need to attend college. Good employers go where there are good, educated employees.

The best chance for turning the state around is to elect a pragmatic leader. In our view, that’s A.J. Balukoff.