NAMPA -- Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff and former state Rep Paulette Jordan squared off in their final debate before the primary election on May 15.
The scene was different than Monday's Republican debate hosted by KTVB with less jabs and sparks but we kept it free-flowing and interactive by asking your questions.
To set the stage a bit: Idaho hasn't had a Democrat in the CEO seat since the late great Cecil Andrus, who served until 1995.
KTVB journalists started with the question of why long-time Boise School District trustee, St. Luke's board member and prominent local businessman A.J. Balukoff and former North Idaho state representative, Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council member and executive on the National Indian Gaming Association board Paulette Jordan believe they could get elected in a state that's so deeply red and what makes them unique.
The two Democrats' platforms don't differ greatly but there are certainly a few things they disagree on.
In opening statements, Jordan said, in part:
"For thousands of generations , my family have been here defending public lands, defending our people by and large. So the voices I come from who raised me in North Idaho are the voices I'm here to represent.
"Right now we've seen lack of affordable health care and lack of public education and lack of economic prosperity which is why our leadership has failed us and the legislature has failed us."
Balukoff said to begin, in part:
"One-party rule has been a bad deal for Idaho and I know we can do better. I got into this race because of public education; our leaders are not providing the uniform and thorough system of public schools that our constitution calls for. I also got into this to fix health care: every Idahoan deserves health care."
An issue the two candidates don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on, even as both want to de-criminalize it: legalizing marijuana.
"First we have to decriminalize marijuana and of course I'm pro-legalization of medicinal use," Jordan said. "To not only benefit from the medicinal value, but benefit from the revenue and I think that tax base would really help our public education system," Jordan responded.
"I am not in favor of putting people in jail for using marijuana," Balukoff said. "With marijuana I believe more research needs to be done to identify the unintended consequences that may be there. We need to understand it better and I don't see our legislature giving a bill anytime that would legalize marijuana."
A hot-button issue facing our state and pertinent in this race is education; we asked how we improve the system and increase funding - especially in rural areas. Both candidates are campaigning on education as their top priority.
In terms of charter schools, Balukoff said he supports choice and local control but doesn't believe charter schools perform up to expectations, while Jordan defended their performance and importance.
"When Mr. Balukoff had mentioned before an attack of those charter schools I felt defensive as a mother," Jordan added.
Candidates tackled how they could make higher education tuition more affordable amid rising rates sweeping the country. They also debated equal pay for men and women and minorities and how we create a livable wage here in Idaho.
"First is to educate people there is an issue and problem. Then we work through the Department of Labor and other resources we have to make sure there's equal pay for equal work," Balukoff answered.
Both want to close the gap, but through different means. Balukoff said it doesn't have to be legislated, even though his website says: "I will bring the fight to the Capitol by working to pass meaningful legislation to make sure Idaho women receive equal pay for equal work."
"We have a candidate here who is very out of touch because we are all well aware as a woman myself I know even a woman of color is paid far less than the average woman who is paid way less," Jordan said.
Infrastructure funding, protecting public lands - which both candidates are campaigning aggressively on, gun control and school safety and immigration were all hit on.
We also asked how a wealthy Boise businessman can relate to rural Idahoans, and on the converse how a state representative from North Idaho can relate to the growing pains we're experiencing here in the Treasure Valley.
"I am familiar with issues that are in these rural areas and critical access hospitals and the challenges they have," Balukoff responded in part." As I've traveled around the state I make it a point to visit with school superintendents and principals and hospital administrators and I talk to them and ask about their challenges."
"I've served in the Legislature, so for those four years I've experienced what Boise residents experience. I live in the north end," Jordan said. "Because of the fact I live here and know the experience of what it's like to be in the urban center base I've watched people being pushed out because of development. People struggle with certain access for needs they have concerns with."