Analysis: Three questions in the Ybarra-Jones race

Three meetings in three cities on three separate days.

Now that last week’s Sherri Ybarra-Jana Jones campaign road show is history, here are three unanswered questions that jumped out at me.

City Club Supt Forum
Jana Jones, left, and Sherri Ybarra field questions at a Sept. 26 City Club of Boise forum — their third joint appearance of the week.

1. Where is the “stark difference” between the candidates?

Ybarra, the Republican state superintendent’s candidate, makes that a part of her closing pitch. But it’s hard to draw a lot of distinctions between Ybarra and Jones, the Democratic nominee.

They both support the Common Core standards, but have reservations about the test aligned to those standards.

They both like pre-K, but neither wants to move too quickly. Ybarra doesn’t want a mandated program, Jones wants to see K-12 made whole first.

Both want to take a cautious approach to tiered teacher licensure — an education task force recommendation that has drawn fire from the Idaho Education Association.

Neither like the idea of arming classrooms.

If anything, the “stark difference” seems to center on backgrounds.

Ybarra touts her on-the-ground administrative experience in the Mountain Home School District, and suggests that Jones’ recent education consulting work has put her on the sidelines. “I am in the prime of my career,” Ybarra says.

Jones, meanwhile, says her consulting work has exposed her to best education practices around the country. She says her experience at the State Department of Education trumps Ybarra’s experience at the Mountain Home district.

2. How would the winner work with the Legislature?

In Tuesday’s debate in Twin Falls, Jones was asked how a Democratic superintendent can work with the Republican Legislature. (Jones saw this dynamic firsthand. She was chief deputy to Marilyn Howard, the former state superintendent who often struggled to make headway with Republican lawmakers.)

“We use politics to get elected,” said Jones. After the election, she said, Idahoans will need to set politics aside to do what is best for kids. Jones pledged to convene groups to review Common Core and the state’s school funding structure, and to bring forward ideas that draw widespread stakeholder support.

Ybarra — who has repeatedly described herself as an educator, and not a politician — said she looks forward to working to champion education at the Statehouse. But she made clear that she will defer to the Republican Legislature, especially on tax issues. “It is up to the legislators to define the taxing formula in Idaho,” Ybarra said at a City Club of Boise forum Friday.

Whether or not that is a political answer is in the eye of the beholder.

3. Behind the scenes, how is the money race playing out?

On Friday afternoon, the Ybarra campaign sent out a news release hailing a $5,000 donation from the Idaho Federation of Republican Women.

Normally, a donation from a Republican group to a Republican candidate wouldn’t qualify as news. The sum of the donation is interesting, if only because of Ybarra’s almost non-existent fundraising efforts earlier this year. Ybarra raised barely $3,000 from Jan. 1 through May 30, on her way to a surprise victory in the May 20 GOP primary. The Idaho Federation of Republican Women donation alone eclipses what Ybarra raised during the primary season.

Jones, meanwhile, raised nearly $58,000 through May 30.

Circle Oct. 10 on the calendar. That’s when the latest campaign finance reports are due. These are always interesting reading for political junkies. This time, it will be interesting to see whether Republican donors have rallied behind Ybarra, and whether she has closed the gap in the money race.

More reading: Here’s our coverage from the candidates’ Sept. 23 debate in Twin Falls, their Sept. 25 debate in Caldwell and their Sept. 26 City Club of Boise forum.

Disclosure: Kevin Richert is a City Club of Boise board member, and organized the club’s Sept. 26 forum.