Political debates are rarely enlightening or much of a factor in a voter’s thought process before voting. The October 3rd gubernatorial debate in the Coeur d’Alene Public Library was a delightful exception.
Ever since I read a UCLA study on debates (Among its major findings was that 80% of a viewer’s decision on who won is determined by the NON-VERBAL signals candidates convey), I’ve been a skeptic.
Granted, whether a candidate conveys “command presence” or a sense of humor, and can smile while sticking a metaphorical stiletto into an opponent’s argument, or wears a bow tie or bolo tie, as opposed to a power red tie, these are all part of image conveyance. To learn, though, that what they say and whether they can cogently convey their thoughts to the voter, has little to do with “who won” was a bit depressing.
When my former student, Kathy Kahn, who is an outstanding teacher at St. Maries High School, invited me to attend with her, I had to go.
This debate, the first between three major candidates, was a legitimate “test” for each..
The Democratic nominee, A.J. Bulakoff, a successful Boise businessman and a long-time leader on the Boise school board, had to convince teachers, like Kathy, that he was truly a supporter of education, that he was for restoring program funding and raising teachers’ salaries decimated by Governor Otter’s cuts.
Otter had to defend his rationale for the cuts by convincing voters that despite the cuts Idaho was still holding its own in national test scores and that Idaho’s educational system was producing employable graduates. Otter needed to shift the public focus away from education to his view that Idaho’s economy and its people are doing well.
The Libertarian candidate, former Republican and Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak, had to convince the audience that a third party candidate could succeed in winning the governorship and then actually leading the state without a party to support him.
Balukoff gets an A; Bujak gets a B; and, Otter gets an F.
In a polite but firm way “A.J.” went after Otter’s record on both education and the economy, citing the fact that Idaho general fund support for education on a per pupil cost basis had fallen to the point where Idaho now ranked 50th in the nation.
Otter’s lame excuse was to come back with the nonsensical “it’s not how much money you spend, its how you spend the money.” A.J. drove home the points that Idaho is not producing employable graduates nor are many of the system’s students actually graduating from college.
A.J. referenced a meeting he had recently with a firm that wanted to locate in Idaho but simply could not find enough workers who knew how to write computer code programs. Idaho does not teach the necessary class in its schools.
He won Kathy’s vote and achieved his goals for the debate. He demonstrated commendable knowledge of all the issues well covered by a panel of two businessmen asking the questions, whether it was the need to expand Medicaid funding or to create jobs by focusing on working with existing small businesses rather than employ more questionable tax giveaways.
John Bujak also did well both in making his case that he as a conservative could work successfully with Republican legislative leadership and in going after Otter’s deviance from basic Republican principles. He also hit hard at the number of scandals that have occurred on Otter’s watch.
Bujak was referencing the outrageous settlement orchestrated by Otter to settle with private prison contractor Corrections Corporation of American for a mere million dollars after the firm admitted years of false billings for work not done the extent of which we will never know because the “settlememt” included the state closing the record.
Otter flunked his test for several reasons. First, he couldn’t even begin to explain or defend the cuts in education. Second, even he admitted he had businessmen complaining to him that they could not employ Idaho graduates without having to administer remedial classes. Third, he simply ignored the credible charges both Bulakoff and Bujak threw at him regarding questionably ethical behavior, if not outright corruption, in parts of his administration.
The sad fact, though, is Butch may still win a third term, undeserving though he is, simply because he still is personally charming, looks good on a horse and plays the role well. It is a classic case of form trumping substance. If he wins, it isn’t just fine teachers like Kathy, who will continue to be unappreciated, we all will be losers as this state’s students fall further behind.Share on Facebook