Boise School Board president eyes Idaho governor's office

The Boise School Board president says his decision to run could come by fall.

broberts@idahostatesman.comJuly 16, 2013 

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Susie and A.J. Balukoff, with Linda Payne Smith, right.

KATHERINE JONES — Idaho Statesman file

A.J. Balukoff, a Boise schools trustee for 16 years, isn't the only Idahoan Democrats are scoping out as a possible gubernatorial candidate. But Democratic chairman Larry Kenck won't say who else the party is talking to and said he doesn't know how many are being asked.

Balukoff says he is considering a run after being approached by Idaho Democrats, including Mike Burkett, a Boise attorney and a former state senator. Balukoff is evaluating his options and talking to possible supporters before he makes a final decision, he said.

His wife, Susie, did not red-light or green-light the idea, Balukoff said: She "yellow-lighted" it.

Balukoff may be several months from a decision, but he's beginning to sound like a candidate.

He's a critic of recent state education budget cuts. He opposed state schools chief Tom Luna's Students Come First reforms that were overturned by voters last fall.

"We have a constitutional mandate to provide an education, and a moral mandate," Balukoff said. "The Legislature has totally fallen down on the job."

If he runs, he'll be a supporter of the rigorous Common Core standards going into place in Idaho schools this fall. Common Core is the work of 45 states trying to set standards for what students should know and be able to do.

Balukoff, 67, said he knows he has to broaden his approach beyond education if he wants to run for governor. Otherwise, he runs the risk of being a one-issue candidate. And he knows he's not well-known outside the Treasure Valley.

If he runs, he likely would put some of his own money into the election but not fund it all himself.

"I don't think it is a good idea to buy an election," Balukoff said.

Kenck says Balukoff brings an understanding of health issues from his time on St. Luke's Treasure Valley board of directors, overseeing St. Luke's Valley medical facilities. His background in business, education and health make him a good candidate, Kenck said, and give him name recognition outside the Valley.

Balukoff had an accounting firm for several years. In 1998, he became part owner of Century Link Arena, the Idaho Steelheads ice hockey team and the Grove Hotel. His seven-partner group, WC/WLDC Idaho LLC, owns all three businesses together with the J.R. Simplot Trust, he said.

Balukoff, who's been school board president since 2008, expects he would stay on the school board if he runs, but would resign if elected governor.

In a run against Gov. Butch Otter, Congressman Raul Labrador or Lt. Gov. Brad Little, could a Balukoff make a dent?

It's going to be an uphill fight for any Democratic candidate, said political analyst Jim Weatherby. But Balukoff does have education expertise.

"I suspect that would resonate," Weatherby said.

Balukoff's best path to a victory would be appealing to the coalition of Republicans and Democrats who defeated the Students Come First laws - but even that would be a narrow road to victory, said Jasper LiCalzi, chairman of political economics at College of Idaho in Caldwell.

Kenck is counting on voters fed up with Republicans on issues such as the failed Luna laws as motivation to make some changes in the 2014 election.

"Their position on these issues is going to really haunt them this election cycle," Kenck said.

Whoever runs for governor, Kenck hopes the party can hone in on one candidate, avoid a primary battle and focus resources on winning in November 2014.

Balukoff would run as a Democrat but considers himself an independent. In Republican-dominated Idaho, he knows he's going to need help from the GOP to get elected: "You've got to be centrist."

Bill Roberts: 377-6408 Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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