Convention II: Democrats begin their work

(UPDATED, 5:46 PDT, with more details on party platform.)

MOSCOW — Idaho Democrats began their two-day convention Friday with optimism, a two-page draft of a platform — and a ready supply of jabs at Republicans.

Democrats are gathering at a Moscow convention center this weekend, a short walk from the Kibbie Dome on the University of Idaho campus, where the Republican convention disintegrated in discord just six days earlier. The sense of timing and juxtaposition was not lost on Democratic leaders.

Democratic convention, 6.20.14
Idaho Democrats began debate on their platform Friday morning — a process expected to continue through Saturday.

The Democrats opened business Friday with what is normally a routine exercise: seating convention delegates. But this same procedural task hung up the GOP convention, as party leaders moved to disqualify delegates from Ada, Bannock and Power counties.  “And we’ve already accomplished what no one else could,” state Democratic chair Larry Kenck said, after delegates loudly and unanimously voted to seat all the delegates who showed up for the convention. “Congratulations.”

Democrats are hoping to capitalize on the ongoing Republican intrigue and infighting and run against what they call 20 years of failed GOP rule. For Democrats, the drought isn’t quite that long, but the state’s perennial minority party hasn’t won a statewide race since 2002.

However, state superintendent’s candidate Jana Jones has a substantial fundraising edge over Republican Sherri Ybarra, as she hopes to avenge a narrow loss in the 2006 superintendent’s race. In the secretary of state’s race, state Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise has a fundraising edge over state Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale. A.J. Balukoff, a Boise businessman and 18-year Boise School Board trustee, is running on what he calls Gov. Butch Otter’s meager record after eight years in office.

The party’s statewide candidates weren’t visible Friday, although Balukoff is slated to speak at a luncheon Saturday and Jones will host a social Saturday evening.

Platform discussion

With the bigger events scheduled for Saturday, delegates spent Friday fine-tuning the party’s platform. That process is expected to continue Saturday morning.

On education, Democrats dabbled in few details.

“Public education must be considered a ‘system’ that begins during early childhood and continues through higher education. Affordable access, provided by community colleges, vocational/technical schools and research universities, is essential. Public education funding should be stable, and be protected from variability in financing.”

And even this 43-word plank received a rewrite. An early draft referred not to “early childhood” but to “the pre-kindergarten level.” Part of the goal was to head off platform language that could hurt Democratic candidates in conservative districts.

“We’re really trying to develop a broad platform … that is not legislative-specific,” platform committee chairwoman Shelley Landry said Friday afternoon.

Earlier that day, the pre-K language sparked some debate. One delegate said pre-K  language may rankle some Idahoans. Despite the potential backlash, Sue Hovey of Moscow urged Democrats to take a stand for pre-K. “That’s a terribly important concept and one that’s been neglected in this state for a long time.”

Legislative conservatives have long resisted pre-K proposals, including a pilot proposal authored by Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, and Idaho remains one of only 10 states without state-funded pre-K.

The Democratic platform does not address the Idaho Core Standards — a hot topic during the failed GOP convention.

The Republicans’ resolutions committee approved language to rescind the new standards in math and English language arts. The GOP committee also considered other controversial education planks aimed at the party’s conservative base: a parental choice resolution authored by state Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; and a resolution calling on Idaho schools to incorporate the Bible in public schools, for “literary content and historical value.” But since the GOP convention adjourned without a vote on the platform, none of this language was not adopted.

Delegates and Democratic leaders seemed to be leaning toward keeping the platform short and general, providing a document candidates could run on. “There’s no way it will be a 35-page manifesto,” Kenck told delegates.

Stay current: Follow @idahoednews on Twitter for the latest from the Democratic convention.

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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