Seeking to reach across party lines, Democratic attorney general’s candidate Tom Arkoosh Tuesday announced endorsements from more than 50 statewide Republicans.
The list includes some big names in statewide GOP circles, such as former Gov. Phil Batt, former First Lady Lori Otter and longtime former state Sens. Denton Darrington and Patti Ann Lodge. Several other names are familiar in the education arena: former state schools superintendent Jerry Evans; former state Sen. Joe Stegner, who recently retired as lobbyist for the University of Idaho; and retired Madison School District Superintendent Geoff Thomas.
Several of these Republicans — including Otter and Lodge — spoke at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday. They touted Arkoosh’s experience in Idaho law, on issues such as water rights, and said Arkoosh would interpret the law in an independent manner. And that, they said, supersedes political affiliation in this race.
“This time, it’s different,” Lodge said.
“Every once in a while, you need to look at the race, and the you need to look at the person, and you need to look at the qualifications of the person,” Otter said.
Tuesday’s announcement comes in the heart of an election that has often centered on party affiliations.
Arkoosh — who has said he voted as a Republican in the May GOP primary — switched his affiliation and jumped into the race in July, taking over for Democratic placeholder candidate Steve Scanlin.
Republican nominee Raúl Labrador — a former congressman, gubernatorial candidate and state GOP chair — has labeled Arkoosh a political opportunist.
Labrador downplayed the announcement Tuesday afternoon.
“My opponent became a candidate through a backroom deal, and he is continuing to campaign only for the insiders,” he said. “My campaign is not about backroom insiders, I am running to represent the people of Idaho by protecting their freedom, our state’s sovereignty, and our shared Idaho values.”
The education angle
Evans’ endorsement hinged on school vouchers — and an exchange from a televised Oct. 3 debate between Arkoosh and Labrador:
- In a news release Tuesday, Evans accused Labrador of ignoring Idaho’s Constitution, which prohibits the use of public money to support religious education. “I know the danger that school voucher programs pose to our public schools,” Evans said. They divert taxpayer money that should be used to adequately fund Idaho’s public school system. I was pleased that Tom Arkoosh came out against voucher programs and in favor of better public-school funding in the recent debate. His opponent supported school choice – just another name for vouchers – which would open the public treasury for religious schooling.”
- During Idaho Public Television’s Oct. 3 debate, Labrador pledged to work with lawmakers to make sure school choice legislation complies with the U.S. and state constitutions. He suggested that Idaho’s “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits the diversion of public money into religious education, would not preclude passing a law that allows parents to move money to the schools they choose. Labrador noted that Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office said an education savings account bill — rejected by the House Education Committee in March — was likely constitutional.
- Arkoosh flatly rejected the school vouchers — and said Idaho’s Blaine Amendment makes them unconstitutional. “I believe that is a dead issue, and it should be a dead issue.”