Election Central

Balukoff’s new spokesman: ‘Students Come First’ foe Mike Lanza

A key figure in the 2012 referendum campaign that overturned K-12 reforms championed by Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna and Gov. Butch Otter is now the spokesman for the Democrat aiming to defeat Otter or the other possible GOP nominee, Sen. Russ Fulcher.

Mike Lanza, co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers and Together, is a parent of students in Boise schools, writer, photographer and Northwest editor of Backpacker Magazine.

“Mike brings grassroots passion about education to this campaign, which is what we are all about and why we’re proud to have him joining our effort in a key position,” Balukoff said Friday in a news release. “The repeal of the Luna laws showed that Idaho’s voters want better for our schools than Gov. Otter and the Legislature have offered for the past several years.”

Balukoff is a member of the Boise School Board. Lanza was a member of Otter’s Education Task Force, which agreed on 20 recommendations to the Legislature. Balukoff has charged that Otter hasn’t done enough for public schools. The Legislature’s budget committee boosted Otter’s recommendation for a 2.9 percent increase in K-12 support to 5.1 percent.

Last week, Lanza made good on his plan announced last fall to turn the teacher-parent group into an Idaho nonprofit corporation.

The nonprofit’s bipartisan board includes Lanza and four prominent figures: former Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans, who served from 1979-1995; former GOP Sen. Tim Corder of Mountain Home; former Boise school trustee and Democratic philanthropist Bev Harad; and former Idaho Teacher of the Year Cindy Wilson, also an Education Task Force member, who teaches at Capital High School.

Lanza said the newly incorporated group aims to obtain federal nonprofit tax status, making it eligible for tax-exempt contributions to advance the cause of K-12 schools in Idaho.

Lanza said he took the job with Balukoff because the campaign holds promise to make significant change.

“I had a lot of people advise me that working for A.J. would make more sense for that overall goal,” Lanza said. ”

He said other board members will carry the burden of building Idaho Parents and Teachers Together.

“We’ll be raising money and people will be handling things for me while I’m with the campaign,” Lanza said. “The organization survives with or without me.”

Added Lanza: “My goal all along has been to try to help Idaho schools out. I think A.J.’s emphasis on education and the fact that he is a truly legitimate candidate made me decide that I should help him out.”

The news release follows:

Parent Behind Luna Laws Defeat Joins Balukoff Campaign

Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff announced today that Mike Lanza, the Boise parent and education activist who chaired the campaign that repealed the “Luna laws” in 2012, has joined his campaign as its Communications Director and Education Advisor.

“Mike brings grassroots passion about education to this campaign, which is what we are all about and why we’re proud to have him joining our effort in a key position,” Balukoff said. “The repeal of the Luna laws showed that Idaho’s voters want better for our schools than Gov. Otter and the Legislature have offered for the past several years.”

“As I travel around Idaho listening to the concerns of Idahoans, I hear over and over again that they want our state investing more in education. And as someone who got into this entirely as a parent, Mike understands that concern,” Balukoff said.

“Ever since I began fighting on behalf of public schools three years ago, for me, this has always been about our kids and their future,” Lanza said. “It still is. I have been repeatedly frustrated by the lack of leadership on education shown by our incumbent governor and some in the Legislature.”

“I know and greatly admire and respect A.J., and I decided to work for him because he understands that Idaho can only build a strong economy if we are truly committed to investing in education. I’ve decided that working to elect A.J. the next governor of Idaho is the best way I can help improve our schools,” Lanza said.

Lanza co-founded the group Idaho Parents and Teachers Together in January 2011, helping organize the opposition to the Students Come First laws that were proposed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and eventually passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Butch Otter in 2011, despite widespread public opposition. Balukoff, as president of the Boise School District Board of Trustees, was a vocal opponent of the Students Come First laws.

Lanza subsequently chaired the statewide campaign that led to the repeal, by landslide margins, of all three laws in November 2012. He also serves on the governor’s Task Force For Improving Education. Separately, he co-chaired a campaign that led to the March 2012 passage, with 71 percent of the vote, of a five-year, $70 million supplemental levy for the Boise School District. He and his wife have two children in Boise public schools.

Lanza will be the campaign’s primary contact for media.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics