Democratic primary: Jordan offers Idaho voters a new face, new approach for governor

Rep. Paulette Jordan is challenging A.J. Balukoff for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Rep. Paulette Jordan is challenging A.J. Balukoff for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. AP file

Over the past 20 years, Idaho Democrats have nominated one middle-aged lawyer or businessman after another to be the sacrificial lamb in the governor’s general election race: Bob Huntley in 1998, Jerry Brady in 2002 and 2006, Keith Allred in 2010, and A.J. Balukoff in 2014. None of the Democrats got better than Brady’s 44 percent when Butch Otter was first elected governor in 2006.

In 2018, Idaho Democrats have a choice to repeat that experience, or try something – and someone – new.

Paulette Jordan brings a unique biography to electoral politics in Idaho, having grown up in rural Idaho, worked in tribal government and represented North Idaho in the Legislature. She is the only serious candidate for governor who is a woman and is under 40.

This is not to say that A.J. Balukoff is not a kind and accomplished candidate. The longtime trustee on the Boise School Board is a successful accountant and businessman. He’s a genuinely good guy and a generous person who supports numerous Idaho causes. In coming to our split decision, several members of our editorial board argued that what Balukoff learned in the 2014 race and his knowledge of medical policy from his service on the St. Luke’s board, his experience in business and his extensive background in education make him the best choice for governor of Idaho.

[Rebuttal: A.J. Balukoff: I'm running for governor to make sure every Idahoan gets a fair shake ]

[RELATED: Watch video of our interviews with the candidates]

[Related: See the candidates in the Idaho Public Television debate]

[Related: Learn about all the candidates in our online voter guide]

But this year, Democrats have two qualified candidates to choose from, and a majority of our board recommends a vote for Jordan.

Jordan is not as well known as Balukoff, coming as she does from a farm and timber family in tiny Plummer, Idaho. She worked for the Coeur d’Alene tribe before being elected to the tribal council in 2009; she first ran for the Legislature in 2012 and won her District 5 seat in 2014. While she has taken a provocative position on legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, her stances on most state issues – modest tweaks to gun laws, more money for education, expanding health care – are similar to those of Balukoff.

But she brings an understanding of rural Idaho and rural issues, such as the challenges of operating the tribe’s rural health clinic; the value of Idaho’s tourism industry; and the deep, passionate love that Idahoans have for their public lands.

Conversations with the candidate: Paulette Jordan discusses marijuana and CBD oil

Jordan hasn’t endeared herself to her fellow House Democrats, many of whom are endorsing Balukoff. We’d prefer that her colleagues considered her a team player, but she attributes her lack of public allies to the fact that she’s an outsider and someone more likely to be “firm” rather than warm with others. “I don’t do nice,” she told BuzzFeed. “That’s not me.”

But what the political establishment is not embracing is being welcomed by many disaffected Democrats. Jordan has ignited interest especially among young voters, and her candidacy is generating national financial support and media attention.

Some Idaho Democrats have said Jordan would be a good candidate four years from now, with more experience, polish and campaigning under her belt. That may be true. But for Idahoans looking for a candidate who can offer vision, energy and a chance to excite Idahoans looking for new leadership, Jordan offers those qualities today.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the Statesman editorial board. Note: Board member Kelly Parker did not participate in the endorsement process.