Coeur d'Alene hosts gubernatorial debate

Otter, Bujak, Balukoff, Pro-Life make their case for election

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Moderators Jimmy McAndrew, left, Peter Smith and Brent Lyles, right, prepare for the Idaho Governor’s debate in front of a packed house Friday at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library.

COEUR d'ALENE - On stage: Republican Butch Otter. Libertarian John Bujak. Democrat A.J. Balukoff. Independent Pro-Life.

They all want to be governor of Idaho next year and beyond, and each had an opportunity Friday at the Coeur d'Alene Library to debate their way to additional votes in next month's election.

Very little, if any, of what was said will provide material for late-night comedy shows, unlike a primary debate earlier this year.

Bujak and Balukoff attacked Otter's record in front of the standing-room-only crowd. Otter responded, saying the state is in much better shape today than his opponents would have voters believe.

"I would like to thank Gov. Otter for gracing us with his presence, after refusing to join us in Twin Falls for the debate there," Bujak, a former Canyon County prosecutor and former Republican, said in his opening statement. "Under the current leadership of Gov. Otter we have 'Obamacare,' we have Common Core, and we have a governor who has refused to fight for Idaho control of its lands."

"I'm running for governor because I have watched for too many years as our great state has dropped to the bottom nationally in education and job opportunities," said Balukoff, a Boise businessman and president of the Boise school board. "Governor Otter, on your watch, we are second to the last (in the country) in state funding for public education."

Otter, breaking out some statistics of his own, said Idaho is tied for eighth in eighth-grade reading, and tied for fifteenth in math, "two of the most important things."

"It's not how much money you spend, it's how you spend the money," Otter said. "We're spending it smarter than these other states."

Bujak said money is wasted on unnecessary levels of school administration.

Pro-Life, a 73-year-old organic strawberry farmer from Letha, Idaho, equated public education with communism and socialism.

"That's why our society is so messed up," Pro-Life said. He added that the state constitution should be amended to strike the requirement of providing public education.

Balukoff said Idaho also is near the bottom when it comes to the rate of public school graduates going to college. Additional education spending could come from the elimination of wasteful spending in state government, Balukoff said.

On the economy, Pro-Life promised to slash government until the state has the lowest tax burden in the country, making the state attractive to business.

"I don't think any of these other candidates are even proposing to do anything like that," Pro-Life said.

Otter said the state has seen significant business expansion in the past couple years - on his watch.

"Last year, Idaho grew faster than all but four states," Otter said. Those four states are all flush with cash from energy production, from gas, oil and coal.

Resource extraction isn't the only formula for success, he said. Instead, the state will thrive because of conservative management.

"We do a good job in the state of Idaho of creating an environment for business to thrive," Otter said. "That's why we have had millions of dollars - if not billions - of capital investment in the last year in the state of Idaho."

Bujak said Idaho's economy could be expanding like North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming if it controlled more of its federal public lands. He said Otter failed to do more for state control.

"What government needs to do is get out of the way, create a tax structure that's low, fair and predictable," Bujak said.

"We need a better marketing campaign than tax breaks, and 'we work cheap,'" Balukoff said. "It may be true that we are high in job creation, but we're also high in job mortality and business mortality."

Too many jobs created in Idaho have been paying minimum wage, Balukoff said.

Instead of expending all of the state's energy working to bring new companies to Idaho, state leaders should focus on the 40,000 small businesses already here, Balukoff said.

"If just 10 percent of those businesses added one job, that would be 4,000 new jobs," the Democrat said.

Once the moderators changed debate issues, Otter shot back at Bujak's criticism of establishing a state health-insurance exchange. The governor said every state has to have an exchange, so Idaho needed to create one for itself.

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, he reminded his challenger.

"I wanted Idahoans making decisions about one of the most important things that we have in Idaho, and that's our health care system," Otter said.

Balukoff said having a health insurance exchange is good for Idaho's small businesses and many people who were not able to afford insurance.

Balukoff said the next step is to expand Medicaid in the state to help more uninsured Idahoans.

"We are already paying for their care when they show up at the emergency rooms," Balukoff said. "We pay for that through our property taxes, through the state general fund taxes, and we also are paying federal taxes that we don't get back by not expanding the coverage of Medicaid."

Other states that expand Medicaid will get Idaho's share of federal tax money, Balukoff said.

Pro-Life shot down the idea of expanding Medicaid in the state.

"All of those functions should remain with faith," Pro-Life said. Elected leaders in the state allowed government to steal nearly all "the practical functions of faith, and I think it's a crime against God what we're doing."

Watch the video on the city's website here:

Four candidates for governor of Idaho take the stage Friday during a debate, hosted by the Coeur Group, at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library Community Meeting Room. Candidates answered questions on the topics of education, jobs, health care and more. From left, Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff, Libertarian candidate John Bujak, GOP Gov. Butch Otter and Independent candidate Pro-Life.

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