Gov. Butch Otter has said he wants education to be his legacy. He now has the chance to make that happen.
The incumbent Republican decisively won a rare third term Tuesday, defeating Democrat A.J. Balukoff in a race that was never close but required vigorous campaign efforts from both.
“It feels historic,” Otter said of winning his third term and the 24th of his 25 career political campaigns.
At 11:40 p.m., Otter accepted victory (click here to watch his speech) in front of fellow Republicans at the Riverside Hotel. He jokingly apologized for not addressing his faithful supporters sooner. “I was waiting for a phone call,” he said with a smile. “But I didn’t want to close out the evening without the opportunity to thank you.”
Third-party candidates — Libertarian John Bujak, Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey and independent Jill Humble — collected less than 5 percent of the vote.
Idahoans have not elected a Democratic governor since Cecil Andrus in 1990. Balukoff was running in his first statewide office and spent more than $3.2 million of his own money to try and unseat Otter. Balukoff, a Boise School Board member, was running because he said he wanted to change the way Idaho invests in and supports education.
“I plan to serve the remaining four years on my school board term,” Balukoff said Wednesday morning. “I will continue my service on the St. Luke’s Hospital board, and I will continue to serve on the Boise State University Foundation board. Susie and I will continue being involved in our community by serving others.”
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Headed into what he says will be his last four-year term, Otter said he will be devoted to advancing the 20 recommendations developed by his own Task Force for Improving Education.
“When have we ever had a five-year plan for improving education?” Otter said receiving applause on Tuesday night. “We did it by standing on principle.”
He then shared a cowboy tale about how rules can change but principles do not — “the cowboy way.”
The rollout of the recommendations is expected to take five years and $350 million. Otter said during an election-season debate that taxpayers shouldn’t worry about the cost. “Because of growth we anticipate, we’re not going to have to raise taxes to achieve that investment,” Otter said.
Part of Otter’s future for education is to adopt a tiered licensure plan, a way to increase teacher pay and accountability.
The plan has received sharp criticism from the Idaho Education Association and Boise School District Superintendent Don Coberly. Meanwhile, West Ada district Superintendent Linda Clark supports tiered licensure. She co-chaired a State Board working grouped that crafted the plan this summer.
Otter also wants to be remembered for adding technology and broadband in schools.
“We’ve hooked up every high school in the state,” Otter said during a debate. “We have doubled the amount of students in dual enrollment.”