Steelheads for Balukoff?

It takes a lot for a political ad to catch the eye of this cynical journalist, but this one featuring AJ Balukoff playing goalie in a Steelheads jersey is a bit unusual. (Impressive skills, by the way!)

So is this an endorsement from the Idaho Steelheads? Not quite; Balukoff is part owner of the Steelheads.

“(Endorsements) never came up in conversation,” said Mike Lanza of the Balukoff campaign, adding Balukoff didn’t ask individual management or athletes for support. “I would say, though, that it’s a safe assumption that the Steelheads are big fans of AJ Balukoff… He’s a big fan of the Steelheads and I believe that the feeling is shared.”

Nationwide, athletes offer up political endorsements, especially in high-profile races. (In 2012, Michael Jordan and LeBron James supported Barack Obama, while Alex Rodriguez endorsed Mitt Romney.)

Here’s the real question: Now that the Steelheads are featured so prominently in a Balukoff ad, will Gov. Butch Otter be invited back to drop the puck?



A change of course in the House Speaker race

House Speaker Scott Bedke has one less thing to worry about this fall.

House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told Idaho Reports on Wednesday he doesn’t intend to challenge Bedke for his post.

Earlier this year, Crane told Dan Popkey he was considering a run at Speaker Bedke, citing dissatisfaction with how Bedke operates. But on Wednesday, Crane told Idaho Reports that at this time, he doesn’t plan to run, adding that he thinks he can continue to learn and make a difference as assistant majority leader.

I reached out to Bedke for comment and haven’t yet heard back.

This doesn’t rule out another challenge to Bedke, perhaps from fellow leadership members Mike Moyle or John Vander Woude. Leadership positions are settled during the legislature’s organization session, which happens after the election in early December.

We’re also keeping an eye on other leadership races. The Senate has an open majority caucus chairman seat after Sen. Russ Fulcher stepped down to run for governor, and the House Dems will need a new assistant minority leader since Rep. Grant Burgoyne is running for Senate.

Keep an eye on the blog for updates over the next several weeks.


Ybarra said check out her website for JFAC endorsements. So we did.

Sherri Ybarra said she had the backing of the legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. That statement surprised JFAC co-chair and Ybarra supporter Maxine Bell.

During Tuesday night’s superintendent debate on Idaho Public Television, Ybarra said JFAC is “behind me every step of the way.” When Democratic opponent Jana Jones questioned that claim, Ybarra reiterated the endorsement.

“I’m sorry my opponent is misinformed and she’s been gone so long she doesn’t know who JFAC is, but they’re listed on my website and they most certainly do support me,” she said.

On Ybarra’s web site, she lists two Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members as supporters: Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who is a Ybarra campaign committee member, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. (Going further down the rabbit hole, another JFAC member, Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, contributed to her campaign, according to campaign finance disclosure documents.) There are 20 members total on JFAC, some of whom aren’t returning next year.

According to Idaho Education News, the Ybarra campaign says the candidate also has the endorsements of JFAC members Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert and JFAC’s co-chair; Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; and Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls. (As of this Thursday afternoon posting, those names weren’t on her website.)

Before we get any further: Why is this important? The relationship between the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Superintendent of Public Instruction is critical. JFAC appropriates state tax dollars, and the public school budget is about 60 percent of that nearly $3 billion dollar pot. Some of the hardest working people in the statehouse are the JFAC members and budget analysts who craft the public school budget.

In short, a superintendent candidate snagging the endorsement of JFAC as a whole would be unprecedented.

Both Keough and Bell said their support of Ybarra is not connected to JFAC, with Keough suggesting Ybarra misspoke.

“When you’re on camera, you don’t always have things come out of your mouth the way you hope they would,” Keough said.

Bell said she would never speak on behalf of the entire committee or the co-chair, and that her endorsement is just as a Republican.

I reached out to the Ybarra campaign for clarification and will update when I hear back.

But regardless of who wins, the next superintendent’s relationship with the joint finance committee may be strained. Jones has worked with JFAC before in her duties at the State Department of Education, but because she’s a Democrat and JFAC is 80 percent Republican, she could have an uphill battle, depending on what her budget priorities are. Ybarra hasn’t been clear about her funding priorities, saying she’ll know better when she gets into the office. That could mean more work for JFAC and staffers.


On endorsements and unconventional candidates

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction has Idaho politicos talking, and anxiety is rising for Republicans worried they’ll lose the seat to Democrats.


Nearly every Republican I’ve spoken to has said Sherri Ybarra is in real danger of losing, or has already lost. In an Aug. 4 interview with Idaho Reports, newly elected GOP chairman Steve Yates acknowledged many Idaho Republicans have said they’re coming to terms with losing the superintendent race to the Democrats, and said while he’s still confident Ybarra can win, he hadn’t yet spoken with or met her.


Ybarra’s absence from the public eye has been an ongoing concern for lawmakers on the two education committees with whom we’ve chatted. But at a Thursday meeting with reporters, Ybarra said she is making the rounds within the party and meeting more people.


When asked about skipping the Idaho Association of School Administrators earlier this week, Ybarra said she had prior commitments, including a medical appointment. Ybarra also said she isn’t concerned with Bonneville superintendent Chuck Shackett’s high-profile endorsement of Democrat Jana Jones, and countered that she has the endorsements of educators and 10 lawmakers. Interestingly, Ybarra declined to name the educators who had endorsed her, however, instead saying the list would be on her website later. (As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the list of educators is not yet online.)


The current list of lawmakers who have endorsed Ybarra includes a few House Education Committee members, but no one from the Senate Education Committee. (It also erroneously promotes House Majority Leader Mike Moyle to the Senate.)


But here’s the real question: What do endorsements actually mean? Secretary of State primary candidate Phil McGrane had multiple endorsements from county clerks and government officials from across the state, but lost to Rep. Lawerence Denney. Superintendent primary candidate Andy Grover had endorsements from editorial boards, lawmakers and educators from across the state (including Chuck Shackett), and ultimately came in last in that four-way race.

It’s about the impressions made at those meetings and conferences, and what those administrators and superintendents will tell educators and parents when they go back to their school districts. From conversations I’ve had, Jones has a public relations advantage right now, but there is still a lot of time before November. 

I’m interested to see who ends up on Ybarra’s list of educators who have endorsed her, and I’m still curious why she wouldn’t tell reporters who was on the roster. But on the morning of November 5, we’ll see what resonated for the voters of Idaho.


Raw footage from the Idaho GOP convention

In June, Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie and I headed to Moscow to cover the now-infamous Idaho Republican state convention. Like the delegates, we didn’t know what would happen when we got there, but we knew the weekend had the potential to be chaotic. We were right; the convention dissolved into a three-day political brawl, ending in adjournment before delegates could elect a party chairman. The fight over party control is now heading to court, and talk of the convention is heating up again.


In the month since the convention, we’ve received a few messages and phone calls from journalists and Republicans alike hoping to view our tape from the June 14th general session. This week, we decided to release all the unedited footage we have. That way, no one can accuse us of playing favorites by providing the video to certain people, and the same footage is available to everyone.


There are a few important things to keep in mind:


1. We didn’t tape the whole event. As anyone who was there knows, it was an hours-long process that included multiple recesses and breaks (and a painfully long roll call), and we were trying to preserve our battery for the duration of the meeting, which had the potential to drag into the evening. We hit record when there was action.


2. We don’t have the moment Labrador said adjournment would mean leadership would stay the same. At the time, the Ada County delegation was leaving, and Seth was getting footage of that.


3. This is the raw footage. It hasn’t gone through editing to make it pretty. You’ll see out-of-context B-roll and a lot of stops and starts.

That said, here you go.



Add The Words: Why keep protesting?

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about the Add the Words protests boils down to alienation of lawmakers. Why protest when they know they’re not going to get a hearing this year? Aren’t they just making people mad?

As an observer, I wondered the same thing. But after watching the demonstrations and talking to the people who show up every day to protest, the message is clear: It’s no longer just about the Legislature. It’s about public opinion.

And that public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted in recent years, even among conservatives. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month, a record 59 percent of people nationwide support gay marriage, and a Pew poll released today says 61 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 21 support same sex marriage.

Add the Words isn’t about marriage, but these polls show attitudes are changing.

Republican leadership said early on that Add the Words wouldn’t happen this session. And though the first wave of protests was aimed at lawmakers, with demonstrators blocking doors to the Senate chambers, there has been a noticeable shift in strategy. Now there are vigils and demonstrations with people sharing painful, personal stories of discrimination.

With that media attention comes more public support. If you haven’t already, check out the Facebook page STAND UP WITH A SELFIE. You’ll see more than a thousand photos with the telltale hand-over-mouth silent protest. Many are from Idaho, but others have posted in solidarity from France, the Netherlands and other countries. On Monday, some of those photos were printed out and strung around the statehouse.

So the question remains — Will that support carry through for next year? And what will lawmakers do?