Governor candidate endorsed by national progressives — but not her fellow lawmakers

Paulette Jordan
Paulette Jordan

Former Rep. Paulette Jordan worked side-by-side with Democratic lawmakers during her two terms in the Idaho Legislature.

But so far, not one of the gubernatorial candidate's fellow legislators has endorsed her in this month's primary.

Of the 16 Democratic lawmakers Jordan worked with the past two sessions, 12 have endorsed her opponent, AJ Balukoff, who has never held a statewide office.

Additionally, former House Minority Leader John Rusche, who worked with Jordan during the 2015 and 2016 sessions, has endorsed Balukoff.

Legislators have not criticized Jordan in their endorsement statements, focusing instead on why they believe Balukoff to be the better choice.

“I have known both AJ and Paulette well,” said Rep. Sue Chew in her Friday endorsement statement. “I've served with Paulette; I know AJ. When AJ asked me to endorse him, I readily agreed. AJ is in this race for the right reasons — he really cares about all of us and he really works hard for Idaho.”

Jordan's campaign has not responded to several Statesman emails asking about endorsements and related issues. Jordan's phone was not accepting voice messages as of Tuesday.

Several national groups have endorsed her, including Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, Democracy for America, Indivisible and People for Bernie Sanders. She also has earned the support of a celebrity, Cher, and a CNN political commentator, Van Jones.

"Beyond the historical significance of this campaign, Paulette is a candidate who promises to govern by putting Idahoans first — above political parties and above special interests," states Jones on Jordan's website. "Paulette has made it clear that she’ll stand up for the people who haven’t always had a voice in Idaho’s government, from the folks in rural areas to the indigenous populations to the hardworking families who often struggle to get by. Throughout her time in the Legislature, Paulette has proven herself to be a strong and effective leader — someone with the determination to get things done.”

Current Democratic lawmakers endorsing Balukoff are Sens. Cherie Buckner-Webb, Grant Burgoyne, Maryanne Jordan, Janie Ward-Engelking and Mark Nye, and Reps. Sue Chew, Phylis King, Hy Kloc, John McCrostie, Melissa Wintrow, Elaine Smith and House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding.

The remaining four members of the Democratic caucus — Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and Reps. John Gannon, Ilana Rubel and Sally Toone — are remaining neutral.

Email prompts complaints

Four of the endorsements came this week following a dust-up over a fundraising email sent Saturday by Jordan's campaign.

The email states it is from “Idaho Dems (via Paulette Jordan)” and gives the appearance of being a forwarded message from Jordan's campaign. The subject line reads "she needs you."

The Idaho Democratic Party uses “Idaho Dems” for its website and social media handles.

On Monday, the party issued a press release addressing the matter: “(T)he Jordan for Governor campaign sent an email that was perceived by some as an endorsement from the Idaho Democratic Party. This email was not from the Idaho Democratic Party nor was it approved by the Party. We are very firm in our commitment to neutrality in the primary. We have asked and reminded all of our Democratic candidates to help us maintain that neutrality."

paulette final.jpg
A screenshot of an April 28, 2018 fundraising email sent by Paulette Jordan's campaign. The framing of the message caused complaints within the Idaho Democratic Party, which cannot be seen as favoring one Democratic primary candidate over another.

As of Tuesday, the party had not received a response from Jordan or her campaign, said political director Shelby Scott.

"We did have members of the public and members of the party who were confused and thought that we had endorsed," Scott told the Statesman.

Jordan told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she did not intend to mislead anyone, but stopped short of saying the campaign email should have been worded differently.

“I think we are all proud to be ‘Idaho Democrats’ including A.J. — who used the exact same wording in a glossy mail piece sent out to his supporters,” Jordan said. “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past and fight about email wording — there is nothing Republicans would like to see more than Democrats fighting amongst themselves.”

Balukoff’s campaign balked at the criticism that it had also misled voters.

“The mailer ... features a picture of A.J. and identifies him as an Idaho Democrat. It’s important to note that this is not an endorsement from the Idaho Democratic Party,” said Andy Bixler, Balukoff’s communication director.

On Tuesday, three of the most prominent sitting Democrats — Erpelding, Buckner-Webb and Wintrow, all of Boise — jointly announced their support for Balukoff.

"Like all concerned Idahoans, I have followed the campaigns for governor with great interest," Buckner-Webb said in the joint statement. "As a legislator I have watched with concern for how each of the candidates will be able to navigate the difficult issues facing Idaho. ... (Balukoff's) experience, integrity and honesty compel me to endorse his candidacy for governor."

Erpelding focused on Balukoff's work ethic.

“Regardless of your political leanings, we can all agree that Idaho needs honesty from its leaders. I support AJ Balukoff because he has worked tirelessly for Idaho, is a person of integrity, and shares the values of every Idahoan,” Erpelding said. “As governor, he will ensure the security of our families, protect our quality of life, and defend our rights. AJ’s integrity is what Idaho needs, and he has my vote.”

Earlier this year, the Jordan campaign attributed a separate email misstep to “staff error,” the Lewiston Tribune reported. A campaign email incorrectly stated that Jordan was the “only Democrat ever elected” to the Legislature from North Idaho.

Cynthia Sewell is the Idaho Statesman politics and watchdog reporter. Contact her at csewell@idahostatesman.com, (208) 377-6428 or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter