Jerry Evans likes to tell the story of one of his political contemporaries, Cecil Andrus — and the way Andrus would introduce Evans to strangers.
Andrus, a four-term governor and still a towering figure in Idaho Democratic circles, would introduce the state’s superintendent of public instruction as a Republican. But, as Andrus would quickly add, not a very good one.
That anecdote came to mind Thursday afternoon, with the news that Evans is breaking GOP ranks to endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff.
Tactically, the announcement fits two pieces of Balukoff’s campaign storyline, as the businessman and Boise School Board trustee looks to upset two-term incumbent Gov. Butch Otter in the Nov. 4 election.
First, it crosses party lines, an essential for any Democrat hoping to win a statewide race in Idaho.
Second, it plays into Balukoff’s hope to make education a focal point in this race.
Balukoff and Evans pulled no punches in a news release Thursday.
Said Evans: “Despite an abundance of political talk to the contrary, Idaho’s public schools have been all but abandoned by our state’s leaders. We are not living up to our state constitution’s mandate to ‘maintain a general, uniform and thorough’ system of public schools.”
Said Balukoff: “(Evans’) endorsement sends a message to educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education that Gov. Otter has failed our children and our public schools. That’s why I’m running for governor.”
Evans is nearly two decades removed from public service — he was state superintendent from 1979 through 1995. He remains fairly well-known in political and education circles. But it’s always an open question how much an endorsement resonates with newcomers or younger voters, who were unfamiliar with Evans and his tenure as state superintendent.
At any rate, the news does cap an eventful week in this governor’s race — with the Republican Governors Association infusing cash into the Otter campaign, with Otter touting a mixed bag of a personal finance website report proclaiming Idaho a teacher-friendly state and with the two camps staking out opposing views on a plan to boost teacher pay and revamp the teacher licensing process.
And just for good measure, the candidates square off Friday in Coeur d’Alene, for the first of four debates pitting Otter against Balukoff.
Disclosure: In my prior life as Idaho Statesman editorial page editor, I asked Evans to join the editorial board as community representative. He served on the board in 2002.