- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Political newcomer Sherri Ybarra’s surprise victory in the Republican primary caught Idaho off guard back in May. But with an ‘R’ by her name, politicians and analysts said her chances to become Idaho’s next state schools chief were high.

However, multiple gaffes along the campaign trail have caused many to wonder if Democratic opponent Jana Jones could go on to become Idaho’s next superintendent of public instruction.

Ybarra won the May election even though the three other candidates all outraised her and traveled hundreds more miles to campaign.

Meanwhile, Jones is a political veteran who has worked for two former Idaho schools chiefs. She ran against GOP incumbent Tom Luna in 2006, losing by little more than 11,000 votes.

Republicans currently control a supermajority in both the Idaho Senate and House, along with every statewide elected position from the governor to the treasurer. Republicans also hold all four congressional seats but Democrats have a history of winning the superintendent position despite the state’s red roots.

Jones comes with name recognition which is an asset in any election, but her opponent has also been criticized for misleading the public on her voting record, education resume, marital history and endorsements as well as plagiarizing sections of her website.

For example, in a debate on Tuesday, Ybarra claimed she had the “support of the majority of JFAC, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that deals with finances.” The 20-member panel is one of the most powerful legislative committees in the Statehouse.

Jones responded by chiding Ybarra and claiming that it was “inappropriate” to say she could have the support of an entire committee.

Ybarra maintained her supporters were listed on her website, adding that she also had the support of the majority of state lawmakers. However, as of Friday, her website listed just 16 state lawmakers and only two of them were on the budget committee. Ybarra’s campaign spokeswoman Melinda Nothern, meanwhile, sent The Associated Press a list of seven Republican JFAC members who support to her.

That means, out of the 105 lawmakers in the Idaho Statehouse - 85 of whom are Republican- Ybarra has the public endorsement of about 25 percent of them.

Ybarra’s campaign has had to go on the defensive when she incorrectly listed former opponent Randy Jensen as a supporter. She apologized to Jones when sections of her website mirrored the exact same wording on her challenger’s website. She had to clarify her marital history to the Idaho Statesman after Idaho Education News revealed she had failed to vote in 15 out of the past 17 state elections.

The Idaho Democratic Party has wasted no time taking advantage of Ybarra’s missteps.

“Our state needs a responsible, hardworking, honest teaching professional in this important position,” the party states in a news release. “We cannot let a dishonest politician be Idaho’s top educator.”

However, if elected, Jones will face an uphill battle in a Republican political world.

While the two candidates have said they wouldn’t repeal Idaho’s latest education standards and would work to implement the 20 education reforms submitted by a governor’s taskforce -now widely adopted as the blueprint to help improve Idaho’s public schools- Jones has said she would push for a higher education budget immediately.

Jones says the money can be found by reducing the amount of money being squirreled away in so-called rainy day accounts, a fund that Republicans often point to as key to maintaining stability in case of a future economic downturn.

“Let’s not put money in the rainy day fund, let’s not put money into a commission for the wolves,” she said during an Oct.16 debate in Nampa. “Let’s keep our kids at the front and when that’s satisfied, then we look at other areas of the state.”

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