Household name to – who?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

After the governor and the four members of the congressional delegation, the Idaho politician with the closest to a household-familiar name probably is Tom Luna, the two-term superintendent of public instruction. A year from now, since Luna isn’t running again, the next superintendent will be someone most Idahoans haven’t known very well.

The time has come for those candidates to get about the business of defining themselves, or getting defined by someone else. Since the results are likely to be mined for what they say about Idaho, let’s have a look at how the field is shaping up so far.

At present, four people have announced for the office. There may be more. Just one of the four has been a statewide figure before: Jana Jones, the one Democrat in the race, who ran for this job in 2006, losing to Luna in the election that made him superintendent. The result was a close Luna win. Jones, who then was chief deputy to Luna’s Democratic predecessor as superintendent (Marilyn Howard), hasn’t been very visible since. But she surely retains some contacts and the outlines of a campaign organization, and some experience as a candidate, which would help her get started this time. They also may be enough to clear the Democratic side of the field before the primary. As a Democrat she has automatic disadvantages running statewide in Idaho, but then the contest on the Republican side is for now hard to fathom.

Three Republicans have announced: Randy Jensen, principal of the William Thomas Middle School at American Falls, John Eynon, a music and drama instructor at Cottonwood, and (as of last week) Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home, whose announcement identifies her as having worked as a principal and teacher.

The Idaho superintendent’s office traditionally has been filled by professional educators; Luna’s election in 2006 was a major break in that informal rule. But so far, everyone now running appears to hit that bar.

So how do Idahoans differentiate? Or, more immediately, how will Republican primary voters do so?

Eynon seems easiest to define. His web site says specifically, and right up top, he running “because he is opposed to our children being taught to the unproven standards envisioned by Common Core.” His issues page also includes a long quote, and it’s the only quote by anyone, from former Representative Ron Paul. On the campaign trail (such as at Kellogg last weekend) he seemed to include support for state Senator Russ Fulcher, who’s challenging incumbent Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter for governor. Eynon appears to be working the Tea Party side of the street.

Jensen, who has been stumping around the state with Secretary of State candidate Evan Frasure, seems to be closer to the mainstream conservative side of things, but there’s some guesswork in that suggestion, and not a lot for evidence. He plays up the professional side of his background (notably, a 2005 award as national principal of the year); his website has plenty about professional background and little about “issues”; news articles about him look much the same. So why exactly is he running? He’ll need to get more specific about that. And maybe he will.

One reason he’ll have to is because Ybarra is positioned very much the same, also highlighting her professional credentials but not yet positioning her on the hot issues of education in the state.

And those issues are plenty hot. What do the three candidates think of the “Luna laws” passed in 2011 and rejected by the voters the next year? What about the governor’s schools commission report? Eynon has made clear his view on common core (which Luna has supported); what do the other two think?

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