A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president and part owner of the Grove Hotel, is drawn to running for governor by the opportunity to redirect the state’s conversation on education.
Balukoff is considering a run after being approached by Idaho Democrats. He is evaluating his options and talking to people before he makes a final decision, likely this year and possibly by fall.
But he’s beginning to sound like a candidate.
Balukoff has been a critic of recent education cuts. He also opposed state schools chief Tom Luna’s failed Students Come First reforms overturned by voters last fall.
“We have a constitutional mandate to provide an education, and a moral mandate,” Balukoff said. “The Legislature has totally fallen down on the job.”
When the economy turned, the Legislature’s reaction was to cut education, Balukoff said. It didn’t consider other options, like ending some sales tax exemptions.
If he runs, he’ll be a supporter of the rigorous Common Core standards going in place in Idaho schools this fall. Common Core is the work of 45 states trying to set common standards for what students should know and be able to do.
Those standards are drawing criticism in Idaho and elsewhere as a massive federal intrusion into state and locally run education systems. Common Core supporters say the federal government is not running the show.
Balukoff, a Boise school board member since 1997, said he’s got to broaden his approach beyond education if he tries for governor. Otherwise, he’ll run the risk of being a one-issue candidate.
So he’ll be looking at other issues, too, as he answers the question “can I be a credible candidate?”
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said.
Balukoff would run as a Democrat, but considers himself an independent. And in Republican-dominated Idaho he knows he’s going to need help from the GOP to get elected. “You’ve got to be centrist,” he said.
Balukoff, 67, had an accounting firm for several years. In 1998, he became part owner of Century Link Arena, the Idaho Steelheads ice hockey team and the Grove Hotel.
His group, WC/WLDC Idaho LLC, owns all three businesses together with the J.R. Simplot Trust, he said. Balukoff’s company has seven partners.
Balukoff has been Boise School Board president since 2008. He expects he would stay on the school board if he decides to run, but would resign if he happened to win.