IDAHO FALLS — Idaho’s wealthiest person — and historically a major donor to the Republican Party — has endorsed the Democratic nominee for state schools superintendent.
Melaleuca CEO and billionaire Frank VanderSloot on Monday announced his support for Cindy Wilson, the recently retired 33-year educator who is challenging Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra in the Nov. 6 election.
“Idaho students deserve better,” VanderSloot said in a news release Monday. “It’s time to improve our education system by electing a strong, results-oriented leader.”
VanderSloot also pledged two separate contributions to Wilson’s campaign: a $5,000 personal donation and a $5,000 donation from Melaleuca, his company that sells nutritional supplements, cleaning supplies and personal-care products. Both contributions will be paid today, VanderSloot said. They represent the maximum an individual or company can contribute for a general election.
Candidates and third-party campaign committees must file their final pre-election sunshine reports by Tuesday.
VanderSloot, who’s generally known as a conservative, touted Wilson’s educational priorities, including her “focus on increasing literacy rates by the third grade and improving teacher retention by investing in competitive salaries.”
“It’s really urgent that our Legislature address teacher pay,” VanderSloot told Idaho Education News.
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The endorsement followed both a lengthy meeting with Wilson and multiple conversations with some of Idaho’s “top leaders” in Boise, VanderSloot said.
“Many mentioned concerns of work ethic, enthusiasm and transparency as areas of concern with the incumbent,” VanderSloot said. “I was taken aback by how many Republican leaders feel that Cindy Wilson would be much better in the position.”
VanderSloot declined to say which state leaders he talked to, but told Ed News they included some “staunch Republicans in very high positions of Idaho government.”
At the close of the 2018 session, several key Republican lawmakers publicly complained that Ybarra was detached from the legislative process — and this compromised her effectiveness, even in a GOP-dominated Statehouse.
Though he acknowledged his past support of prominent conservatives, including presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, VanderSloot said he’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He considers himself a “conservative on social and economic issues but a liberal on most environmental policies.”
While VanderSloot generally endorses Republicans, he has crossed party lines before. In the 1994 governor’s race, VanderSloot endorsed Democrat Larry EchoHawk. In 2006, VanderSloot endorsed Democratic controller’s candidate Jackie Groves Twilegar. Neither candidate won in the general election.
EastIdahoNews.com last week reported that VanderSloot is supporting Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little as Idaho’s next governor.