GOP superintendent candidates to square off in televised debates next week


Candidates in the GOP state superintendent’s primary square off at an April 6 forum in Idaho Falls. Devin Bodkin/Idaho Education News

Idaho state superintendent Sherri Ybarra will face former legislator Branden Durst and former State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield in debates Monday and Tuesday night, the candidates’ only televised appearances together before the May 17 primary.

Monday’s 8 p.m. debate is the second of this election cycle’s Idaho Debates, an Idaho Public Television series of matchups between contenders for statewide offices. Superintendent’s candidates will take the stage again the following evening on KTVB at 6 p.m.

The Idaho Debates, held in partnership between Idaho Public Television, the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and the state’s public universities, are broadcast statewide and on IPTV’s YouTube page. In addition to airing on TV, the KTVB superintendent’s debate will be streamed on the Treasure Valley news station’s website.

Ybarra, Durst and Critchfield have already fielded questions in front of smaller audiences at forums hosted by Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Twin Falls Kiwanis Club and the City Club of Idaho Falls. At those forums, the candidates have worked in digs at each other’s backgrounds and records, but Monday’s debate will offer them formal chances to spar, with one-minute rebuttals built into the first of the two hour-long faceoffs.

How to vote: Early voting in participating counties runs May 2 through May 13. Absentee voters must request ballots by May 6, and return them before polls close on election day at 8 p.m. Only voters who were registered as Republicans by March 11 can vote in the state’s closed Republican primary. In-person voters can find their polling place here; polls open at 8 a.m.

Monday’s format will resemble Idaho Public Television’s attorney general’s candidate debate Tuesday. A panel of three reporters Monday will give candidates 90 seconds to answer questions in between opening and closing statements.

The superintendent’s debates are on despite criticism from Durst and a flurry of pullouts in other debates.

Gov. Brad Little has refused to debate two opponents Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and GOP operative Ed Humphreys of Eagle. When Little declined to debate, calling his record “non-debatable,” McGeachin passed on participating too, causing organizers to cancel it.

Congressman Mike Simpson also declined to debate GOP hardline opponent Bryan Smith, the Idaho Press reported.

State Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, pulled out of her lieutenant governor’s debate against House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley, decrying media bias and IPTV’s tradition of not disclosing panelists’ names ahead of debates. Durst on social media has echoed a similar line of criticism.

“Candidates expect to debate their opponents. They shouldn’t have to debate the moderator and panelists also. The Idaho Press Club is a cabal of leftists who will use their position to try to tear down conservatives,” Durst tweeted.

But he’ll participate.

“I am going. And I am going to call the panelists out for the liberal BS and make sure that every conservative knows who is asking the questions. This is going to be fun,” he later wrote.

The pullouts and refusals have left debates for down-ballot positions, including state superintendent of public instruction, attorney general and secretary of state as the only debates left scheduled.

Disclosure: EdNews reporters and editors are members of the Idaho Press Club.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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