Democratic candidates split on marijuana legalization

The two Democratic gubernatorial candidates disagreed about marijuana legislation, but staked out common ground on most issues Sunday night.

Former state Rep. Paulette Jordan and Boise school trustee A.J. Balukoff agreed on most education and tax topics during Sunday night’s debate. (Photo by Aaron Kunz, Idaho Public Television.)

During their Idaho Public Television debate, former state Rep. Paulette Jordan said she would push for legalization. She said the move would help Idahoans who want to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and bring in tax dollars to support schools.

Boise businessman and school trustee A.J. Balukoff said he was “pretty much opposed” to legalization — and called question moot, since it’s unlikely such a bill would ever pass the Legislature and reach his desk. (Most states that have decriminalized marijuana have done so via voter initiative.)

On many other topics, there wasn’t much to distinguish the two candidates in the May 15 Democratic primary:

  • They both said they opposed the tax bills legislators passed earlier this year, resulting in $125 million in net cuts. “People are not asking for tax cuts,” said Balukoff. “They want better schools.”
  • Both candidates support generating money for schools by eliminating some of the dozens of exemptions to Idaho’s sales tax.
  • They both decried the state of rural schools, which are forced to rely on short-term supplemental property tax levies. “I have experienced that firsthand with my sons,” said Jordan, of Plummer. Both of Jordan’s sons now attend a private school in nearly Washington state.
  • Both candidates again said they opposed arming teachers, a centerpiece of President Trump’s school safety platform. However, Balukoff has said Idaho schools should continue to have the option to arm teachers.

Much of Sunday’s debate came down to intangibles.

Jordan said she was the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to come from rural North Idaho since 1970, when Cecil Andrus upset incumbent Republican Don Samuelson. Jordan, 38, cited her experience with the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe’s governing council and in the Legislature, and often made her pitch to a new generation of voters. “Idaho’s Democrats have been running scared.”

Balukoff said Idaho ranks near the bottom of national rankings for public school spending and other metrics, and blamed this on one-party GOP rule. “Idaho has become a scroll-down state.” Balukoff cited his 21 years’ experience on the Boise School Board and 13 years’ experience on the St. Luke’s hospital board. At 71, Balukoff didn’t skirt the age issue; in his opening remarks, he said Sunday was his 38th wedding anniversary.

The three major Republican gubernatorial candidates debate at 8 p.m. Monday on Idaho Public Television.

Watch live: Click here to watch Sunday’s debate.

More reading: Balukoff and Jordan talk education at a City Club of Boise forum.



Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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