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.