Boise School Board President A.J. Balukoff is the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for the post in the 2014 elections. Party leaders have rallied around him and he is expected to easily win the Democratic nomination.
"I'm running for governor because I believe that Idaho can do better," he said during an 11 a.m. Tuesday announcement at Hillcrest Elementary School. More than 100 people attended, including the last Democratic governor, Cecil Andrus.
After an introduction by Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, the businessman and former certified public accountant pledged to focus on education, the economy and leadership.
He called for reductions in class sizes and improving Idaho's spending on public education, which ranks 50th in the nation per pupil. Idaho ranks 47th in the rate high school graduates go to college; 50th in average SAT scores; and only five of the 70 largest high schools in the state prepare more than half their students for college, based on SAT scores, Balukoff said.
"Strong public schools are the most important investment that we can make in our children, in our communities and in our economy," Balukoff said.
"The good news is we can do better," Balukoff said, surrounded by his wife, Susie, and about 20 children and grandchildren. Seven of the eight Balukoff children attended Hillcrest and three of their 33 grandchildren are current students.
"We can do better, but it will take balance in the Legislature and new leadership at the top, leadership that is independent minded enough to do the right thing regardless of party."
Balukoff blamed GOP leadership for the struggling economy.
"Hard working Idaho families are having difficulty and are struggling making ends meet," he said. "Cost of living continues to rise, health care costs go up, gas prices go up, but salaries and wages don't keep pace. The economic policies of the last 20 years have resulted in Idaho being No. 1 in the percentage of minimum-wage jobs."
Statewide Republican leadership is "more and more out of touch," Balukoff said. "We've had a one-party state rule that has led to pay-to-play politics where the politicians in power reward their powerful backers with tax breaks and contracts while regular Idahoans are left on the outside looking in."
Balukoff has been on the Boise School Board for 16 years and helped defeat the Students Come First school reforms at the polls in 2012, which were supported by two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter.
He ran his own accounting firm and has been on the board of St. Lukes Treasure Valley. Since 1998, hes been part-owner of Century Link Arena, the Idaho Steelheads and the Grove Hotel. His seven-partner group, WC/WLDC Idaho LLC, owns all three businesses together with the J.R. Simplot Trust.
Other candidates for governor in 2014 so far include incumbent Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Russ Fulcher, who will face each other in the GOP primary in May. Fulcher has said Otter has "lost touch" after 27 uninterrupted years in high office.
Fulcher announced his challenge to Otter just a little more than a week ago, saying a tour of the state showed him, "We are in danger of losing (Idaho's) uniqueness, that specialness."