Even without an incumbent in the mix, the race for the Republican nomination in Ada County’s legislative District 14 features two political heavyweights.
The race pits Gayann DeMordaunt of Eagle against Meridian’s Douglas R. Jones, who served 20 years in the Legislature before briefly moving out of state.
DeMordaunt is a member of the Ada County Republicans’ executive committee and a member of the Idaho Charter School Commission — a group of seven gubernatorial appointees who authorize new charter schools and ensure compliance with state laws. DeMordaunt is also the wife of retiring House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, and has been a precinct committeewoman for 12 years.
Jones is a Twin Falls native with a background in agriculture, business and water resources issues. He has served on the Twin Falls County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Idaho Technology Council and been active with the Idaho Farm Bureau.
Both candidates list education issues are their top priorities.
“Schools need to be making improvements in education at the same time as we are supporting the growth of Idaho businesses,” DeMordaunt said. “That includes a commitment to low taxes and a commitment to limited regulations.”
DeMordaunt, a founder of North Star Charter School, said school choice is an important part of her educational philosophy.
“I am very much supporting choice in education, and that means choice in terms of traditional public schools, magnet schools, private school, charters or home school,” DeMordaunt said. “Parents ought to have that choice.”
Given Idaho’s rural backbone, Jones said legislators need to focus on education issues for students from big districts and small schools alike.
“We have to offer a high-quality education for every student in Idaho, whether they are in West Ada or in Three Creek, which are the two extremes, and I know both,” Jones said. “A quality education leads right into my second topics, which are good-paying jobs and growth in the economy.”
Jones, who was endorsed by the Idaho Education Association, favors state support for pre-K and kindergarten.
“I’m a true believer in early-childhood education because the research says that is where some of our most critical learning occurs,” Jones said.
The primary winner faces Eagle Democrat Glida Bothwell in November’s general election.
Republican primary: District 14 House Seat B
Gayann DeMordaunt (www.DeMordaunt.com)
Douglas R. Jones (www.DougJonesIdaho.com)
How long have you lived in your district?
DeMordaunt: 15 years.
Jones: Idaho native, moved to his current district about eight years ago.
DeMordaunt: Bachelor’s degree in English, Brigham Young University.
Jones: Bachelor’s degree in agriculture mechanization, University of Idaho.
DeMorduant: Republican precinct committeewoman for 12 years, and legislative District 14 chairwoman for eight years. Delegate to 2012 Republican National Convention.
Jones: Idaho House of Representatives, 1985-2005. Served as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Who can vote: Registered voters within District 14, which includes portions of Eagle, Star and Meridian in northern Ada County. Click this map for details.
Election date: May 17.
Education connections: DeMordaunt serves on the Idaho Charter School Commission. Jones is a past member of the House Education Committee, serving one term as vice chairman.
Do you support the 2016-17 public school budget passed by the Legislature this year? Why or why not?
DeMordaunt: “I was very pleased to see that 7.4 percent increase this year on the education budget. I think coupled with last year’s 7.4 percent increase we are headed in the right direction. It was important to restore funding to 2009 levels, but more is needed. I feel like the investment in education needs to be smart investments that are directed to the classroom, and those investments in the classroom benefit each and every one us, whether we have children or not. Good examples of investments in the budget have been the recent investment in STEM, as well as early literacy.”
Jones: “It was a huge step forward, but bringing funding back to 2009 levels, which is now seven years ago, is not really something to brag about because things don’t cost the same as they did 2009 — lights, heat, maintenance of the building. The budget was a good step, a big step forward, but it’s not the final step. Local supplemental and override levies are where the Legislature has maybe not met its goals. Our citizens indicated their support for education by passing those and taxing themselves in the least popular form of taxation, the property tax.”
Explain why you support or oppose implementing all of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education recommendations over the next three years.
DeMordaunt: “I am every much in support of these task force recommendations because we had business leaders around the table, we had education experts, we had higher education folks from our universities and colleges, the school boards association, parents and teachers’ groups. We had 31 or so people in the room asking for a long-term vision of what will drive our students’ growth. It’s a terrific model. Are all of the recommendations perfect? No. But I will be using it as a guide because of the level of expertise that went into crafting these.”
Jones: “I’m very supportive of the task force and its recommendations. I certainly didn’t know everybody on the task force, but I knew several of them, and a couple from the business community. They worked long and hard at what they did to make those recommendations. Yes, I would be supportive of the funding as we roll into those things and the different pieces that might require some kind of enabling legislation to make it happen. That task force had a couple of legislators on it, and an awful lot in the business community and they made recommendations that they thought really were important to the state.”
This year the Idaho Legislature passed two bills and set aside $9.1 million in new funding in an attempt to improve the literacy rates of students in grades kindergarten through third grade. Do you support or oppose this plan?
DeMordaunt: “I believe that as we look to making sustainable investments in education those need to be driven by getting the most bang for our buck. What I mean by that is results-oriented investments in education. The early literacy increase in the budget is absolutely based on what we know about results from early literacy. This is just smart policy in terms of education — addressing the K-3 segment. We know it is critical to have children reading at grade level by third grade. The dividends will be great because it is based on sound research. It is the kind of investment I like to see.”
Jones: “I’m very supportive of early reading skills. If you haven’t learned to read by third grade, you will fall behind during the rest of your academic career. It is critically important to develop reading skills early, and that may require more intervention from schools or specialized work for those kids who struggle. It may be we need to be more creative in how we approach it and look more holistically at reading skills, particularly among students who come from low income or non English speaking homes. “
State leaders are promoting a goal of having 60 percent of the Idaho’s young adults hold a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020. What is your position on this goal?
DeMordaunt: “I think it is an excellent goal, and it certainly ought to be our focus. A good step to achieving the goal was concurrent enrollment. We know that when a student in high school takes even one or two college credit classes they are more inclined to seek out post high school opportunities. That encourages high school students to be looking at going on, whether that is with a four-year degree, an associate’s degree, a certification of some sort or any of those options. We need to increase opportunities for high school students and we need to plant that vision that those opportunities are there and they are achievable for all students in Idaho.”
Jones: “I support it, that is the easy answer. We may not achieve it as soon as we would like, but if we don’t have a goal to shoot for we won’t get there. Let’s work toward it as quick and as well as we can. How do we get there? Affordability — particularly for students who may be the first in their family to go on to higher education. There was some discussion there on tuition lock. That was a highly technical discussion, and there are some consequences when you do that, down the road. (Otter is) throwing something out there and we’ve started the discussion.”