Convention 2014: Democrats take their turn

Six days after the state Republican Party convention imploded, the Idaho Democratic Party will take its turn this weekend.

And Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck is framing expectations with a swipe at the state’s splintered majority party.

“We’re not going to have blowups and meltdowns,” Kenck said Wednesday.

The Democratic convention kicks off Friday morning in Moscow — the same city where Republicans met last week, adjourning abruptly without voting on a state chairman or approving a party platform. The dysfunction has left party leadership in question. Mountain Home Republican Barry Peterson says that he retains the GOP’s chairmanship, other Republicans say the state party is without a chair — and both factions say they have legal opinions on their side. Several proposed education platform planks, including a resolution opposing Idaho Core Standards, are in flux.

All of this opens up an opportunity for Democrats, said Jim Weatherby, a professor emeritus at Boise State University.

“They were given an incredible gift,” he said. “The question is, can they take advantage of it?”

Much of this weekend’s Democratic convention figures to be devoted to nuts-and-bolts work, such as training for candidates and volunteers and sessions on grassroots organizing. Delegates will spend Friday and Saturday mornings crafting a platform, and Kenck is expecting some robust debate on the details.

But a convention also provides Democrats with a chance to showcase its candidates — no small consideration for a minority party that holds no statewide offices. Several of their top-of-the-ticket candidates are making their first run for statewide office, challenging candidates who enjoy the name identification and fundraising advantages that go with incumbency.

Gubernatorial nominee A.J. Balukoff, scheduled to address the convention at a Saturday luncheon, is one such candidate. The businessman and 18-year Boise School Board veteran concedes he is not well-known beyond Boise — so he says he will spend the summer connecting with voters around the state, and he plans to launch a media campaign in July. But Balukoff takes optimism in the May 20 primary results; incumbent Gov. Butch Otter won a four-way race, but his narrow 51 percent majority illustrates an underlying dissatisfaction. “It pretty well corroborates what I’m hearing,” Balukoff said in a recent interview.

Weatherby says the governor’s race is a “longshot” for Democrats. He says Democrats have a better shot in the state schools superintendent’s race, as former deputy superintendent Jana Jones takes on Republican Sherri Ybarra, a Mountain Home administrator. Weatherby also says Democrats have some reason for optimism in the open secretary of state’s race, as Boise state Rep. Holli Woodings faces state Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.

But in any of these races, Democrats will have to draw votes from independents, and crossover votes from Republicans. The tumult within the GOP could be an ongoing storyline that works to the Democrats’ favor. But while this week’s Democratic convention may get a little more notice, in light of last week’s Republican fireworks, these political events only resonate so much with rank-and-file voters.

“I don’t want to overrate this,” said Weatherby.

Stay current: Read Idaho Education News and follow @idahoednews on Twitter for the latest from the Democratic convention.

Read more: In this Voices guest opinion, state chairman Larry Kenck says Democrats will get their work done this weekend.

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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