- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The only candidate to be called a liberal in Idaho’s first gubernatorial debate Wednesday was GOP Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. But even though the incumbent didn’t attend the event, he was the main target of criticism.

Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff faced off against Libertarian candidate John Bujak in Twin Falls. Otter, who is running for this third term, declined to participate. All three candidates, however, have accepted debates together in other events throughout the state in the upcoming weeks.

Both Balukoff and Bujak spent most of their time criticizing what they see as Otter’s failure to improve Idaho’s education system and the economy. They also vowed to remove the “good old boys” system they say Otter has created.

The two remained civil toward each other, though, and often declined to respond when given extra time for rebuttal.

The cordial candidates spoke in front of a sparse crowd of almost 50 participants.

“You could choose Gov. Otter, you could lock yourself into four more years of cronyism but Idaho will dig deeper into a pit,” Bujak said. “I am the only conservative candidate on the ballot.”

Bujak’s libertarian views were evident throughout the debate as he advocated slashing taxes and replacing it with one flat tax as well as cutting what he considers wasteful spending in the state’s budget.

Balukoff, a businessman and chairman of the Boise School Board, has cast himself as the candidate who will improve Idaho’s education system. He advocated for more education spending to increase teacher pay.

“The one thing Bujak and I do agree on is that we need a change,” Balukoff said. “If you’re satisfied with spiraling down to the bottom, then vote for Otter.”

The one brief moment the two candidates differed was on whether Idaho should take control of its public lands. Balukoff said a takeover would be a costly while Bujak said the task could be accomplished by taking control of one county’s public land at a time.

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