Democratic state superintendent candidate Jana Jones said she was “shocked” to learn Wednesday that passages from her website appear, nearly verbatim, on Republican opponent Sherri Ybarra’s website.
Jones said she wrote the passages in question, and her website was published before Ybarra entered the race. Ybarra did not return phone calls or emails Wednesday. She broke her silence on Thursday, taking full responsibility.
Meanwhile, Jones accused Ybarra of plagiarism and Ybarra removed the main section containing the disputed language from her website on Thursday, though a smaller section repeating the same wording remained on her homepage.
Melinda Nothern, who is working on Ybarra’s campaign, confirmed late Wednesday she had received a screenshot from Idaho Education News comparing similar language on the websites, but Nothern had been unable to reach Ybarra. Nothern declined to comment, saying she did not have access to all of the information and the website’s launch predated her work on the campaign.
The paragraphs are each 46 words long. The only difference between the two is that Jones inserted one eight-word phrase on improving education: “It’s also going to take all of us.” Ybarra’s passage includes the eight-word phrase, “We want a brighter future for Idaho’s children.”
Everything else — including the wording and the use of an Oxford comma in the same spot — is identical.
This is the identical wording on both sites: “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to have the kind of education system we want for Idaho’s kids. … Parents, students, educators, business leaders, elected officials, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, working together to make it happen.”
Other elements of the two sites, including capitalization and the placement of exclamation points, are very similar.
A solicitation for comments also is nearly identical.
Says Jones’ site: “Use the optional message box to share your thoughts and ideas with her regarding education in Idaho.”
Says Ybarra’s site: “Use the optional message box to share your thoughts and ideas with us regarding education in Idaho.”
“It sounds like a whole page of my website,” Jones said Wednesday afternoon when Idaho Education News read her both passages. “I find that amazing. All I can say is, no, I wasn’t aware of that and that’s unbelievable. I don’t know what you’re supposed to say to that.”
Jones said she wrote the passages with her spokesman, Robert Allen, before launching her website Jan. 6. Since its launch, Jones said she not made changes to her site — other than Facebook posts and an update showing a new grandbaby that has joined her family. She also said there is no chance she and Ybarra have the same web team or that the passages were lifted from a template either candidate could have utilized.
“What you read is what’s always been there,” Jones said.
Ybarra’s website was published more than two months after Jones’, on March 20, according to Domain Tools, an online searchable database of website name registration and hosting data.
Ybarra did not respond to multiple messages left Wednesday by Idaho Education News, including an email that included screenshots of the passages in question.
This would not be the first time Ybarra has had an issue with her official campaign website.
Less than a month ago, Ybarra removed former Republican primary rival Randy Jensen’s name from the “campaign team” section of her website. Jensen had been listed as one of five members of Ybarra’s “Campaign Committee,” despite the fact that Jensen was not working for Ybarra and has not offered an endorsement in the race.
After Idaho Education News contacted Ybarra and Jensen on Aug. 11, she removed his name from the website.
Ybarra said she asked Jensen for help after her May primary victory and took his response to mean he supported her campaign. Jensen said he offered to help both Ybarra and Jones because he cares about children, but has not worked for either campaign or endorsed.
Jones and Ybarra will square off on Election Day, Nov. 4, with the winner succeeding outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna – who is not seeking a third term.