COEUR d’ALENE — Rep. Paulette Jordan’s chief legislative accomplishment in four years was a bill that never passed, according to senior Democratic legislators in separate interviews with The Press.
Jordan is now the Democratic nominee for Idaho governor. If elected, she’ll become not just the first woman governor of Idaho, but the first Native American governor in U.S. history.
She has not responded to multiple interview requests from The Press.
Along with Rep. Sally Toone, Jordan sponsored a bill in 2017 and 2018 to establish a student loan forgiveness fund for public school teachers who would work in rural school districts. Toone entered the Legislature in January 2017 as a career educator for whom Idaho’s teacher shortage was a very important issue, she said. The original version of the bill “shot for the moon,” with an annual budget of $3 million to pay off $3,000 in student loans for 1,000 teachers in rural communities statewide, said Toone.
Toone handled the numbers side of the bill while Jordan set up appointments with contacts she had in Boise, said Toone. They worked across the aisle and made presentations, but the bill never got out of committee. Over the summer of 2017 the two kept in touch, and Toone kept meeting with stakeholders.
On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 2017, Jordan, a Plummer resident, announced her candidacy for governor.
Weeks later, on Feb. 6, Toone and Jordan introduced a new draft of the bill, with half the budget and half the number of scholarships.
“Up to 500 of those eligible rural teachers and counselors, as determined by the Idaho State Board of Education, could be awarded $3,000 per year, for up to four years,” read the bill’s statement of purpose in 2018. The annual impact to the state budget had been cut in half to $1.5 million.
However, the next day, Jordan abruptly resigned her seat in the Legislature, leaving the success of the bill up to the first-term legislator from Gooding. After being reported out of the education committee Feb. 28, Toone pulled the bill in early March because it was going to be amended. Toone said the amending orders process would have attached provisions to the bill that varied from its original intent.
“This bill was for teachers and was written with lots of teacher input,” said Toone. She still wanted the bill built that way, and not with input from people outside public education, she said.
“It needs to stay coming from teachers,” she emphasized.
Jordan is not working on the bill any more because she is focused on her candidacy, Toone explained.
House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel of Boise also pointed to the loan forgiveness bill as the highlight of Jordan’s legislative career. Though it has died in committee twice, Rubel expects the bill to move forward in future legislative sessions.
“It takes a few years to get over the finish line,” she explained. Thanks to Jordan, the idea is catching on, said Rubel.
Rubel praised Jordan for her willingness to “speak up and be heard even though you’ll be steamrolled” as a Democrat in the Republican-led Legislature. Rubel said Jordan had taken a leading position not only on the loan forgiveness bill, but also on drug legalization issues, on the “Add the Words” campaign, and on net neutrality. However, even Jordan’s supporters acknowledge that in nearly four years as a legislator, Jordan never solely sponsored a single bill.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, who serves as the House Minority Leader, said Jordan had “moved the needle” on the rural teachers issue. Though the bill didn’t pass, the bill was one of the most noteworthy of the 2018 session, said Erpelding.
Jordan also took a leading position on the issue of college students getting busted for marijuana.
“She made the point that a felony charge with pot can permanently ruin a student’s life because it takes away access to student loans. As a leader on that issue, she pointed out that the penalty was too serious for something legal 10 miles away,” Erpelding said.
The three Democratic colleagues expressed enthusiasm for Jordan’s candidacy for governor. However, their post-primary comments stand in contrast to the tepid support Jordan received from her colleagues prior to her May 15 primary election victory.
It may have had something to do with errors she made in 2018.
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MONDAY: Missteps from the launching pad