Election 2020

Cher-Backed Idaho Democrat Hopes to be Nation’s First Native American Governor

Idaho state Rep. Paulette Jordan speaks during a women's march rally Jan. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Idaho Democrats haven’t been able to put one of their own in the state’s governor’s office since the 1990 election. But now that Gov. Butch Otter (R) has decided not to run for re-election, they have new hope.

Endorsed by Cher and backed by People for Bernie, progressive Democrat Paulette Jordan not only wants to break the GOP’s stranglehold on Idaho’s governor’s office, but the 37-year-old state representative wants to become the nation’s first Native American governor.

Born and raised in northern Idaho, Jordan claims ancestors from several local tribes and also a line of tribal chiefs going back to her great-grandfather.

Jordan was also the youngest member of the Couer d’Alene tribe’s council.

When Jordan announced her campaign Dec. 7, she talked about “service” to the state of Idaho. Her campaign website lists a livable wage, education, affordable healthcare and Medicaid expansion as her top priorities.

So it’s not hard to believe that Jordan, who doesn’t just describe herself as progressive — she claims to be “very progressive” — also told Mic she is definitely the anti-Trump candidate in this race.

“The truth is, in fact, that we’ve created hundreds of thousands more jobs through clean energy developments than we have through fossil fuel developments,” Jordan said. “The president is choosing to lie to the general public for these reasons, for his own sake to take from the public. Take from the people. And that is wrong.”

And then there’s Trump’s decision to reduce the size of two of Idaho’s federally protected national monuments.

“We have this president who decides to open up [monument sites] for oil and gas extractions to basically to ravage the land in every way possible for the benefit of the corporations,” she said. “Now that, to me, is not only unlawful but goes back to being a detriment to the people.”

Jordan told Vice that it is essential to have a Native American in the Idaho governor’s office.

“I see myself helping to contribute to the balance of representation and to ultimately inspire others who may not think this position is attainable,” said Jordan. “There are people who think entering office is only for older, white, wealthy men. We’re now here to break boundaries and people’s perception.”

Speaking of older, white, wealthy men, Jordan’s going up against A.J. Balukoff, a Boise businessman who is running as a moderate, in the Idaho Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary.

While the 71-year old doesn’t have Cher or People for Bernie on his side, Balukoff does have the Benjamins.

Idaho Ed News reported Balukoff raised $181,271 and spent $143,699 in the last half of 2017 — $175,000 coming out of his own bank account. He’s never been shy about self-funding. Balukoff spent nearly $3.6 million of his own cash the last time he ran for governor in 2014.

Jordan, on the other hand, only raised $6,397 and spent $1,090 in the last half of 2017. But she’s just been a candidate since Pearl Harbor Day.

Since the GOP has been dominating for so long in Idaho, it’s not a shock that the real money is on the other side of the ticket.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) raised $364,246 and spent $277,578 during the last six months of 2017.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little —Otter handpicked successor— raised more than half a million dollars from July through the end of December and spent $24,368.

However, the candidate who bills himself as the non-politician on the GOP side of the ballot, Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, led the Republican candidates in fundraising and spending July 1 through Dec. 31. He pulled in $776,947 and spent $864,773.

Ahlquist also put $326,000 of his own money into the campaign doing those six months, bringing his overall personal contributions to over $700,000.

He might be the only non-politician on the Republican side of the ballot, but Ahlquist knows how to raise money. His campaign brought in $1.7 million from March 1 through Dec. 31.

Travis Hawkes, an Ahlquist campaign senior advisor, said no other candidate for governor has ever raised that kind of cash in the calendar year prior to a gubernatorial election.

And in this gubernatorial race, Hawkes said, money matters.

“Competing with career politicians who collectively have held elected office for 27 years, have raised and spent millions of dollars campaigning for public office, and are campaigning on taxpayer dollars requires significant resources and significant investment,” Hawkes said.

Fair enough. But all of this money raised in the last half of 2017 has to be making a difference going into the first half of 2018, right?

The correct answer is “nobody knows.”

They don’t do much polling in Idaho because it’s so expensive.

However, an Idaho Politics Weekly poll showed “don’t know” had the lead last year. Thirty-six percent of voters had not made up their minds about supporting any of the candidates in November 2017.

A poll released by the Labrador campaign in November showed — you guessed it — Labrador was in the lead.

“This is a desperate attempt by D.C. politician Raul Labrador to energize his campaign that’s wracked by both fundraising woes and an enormous lack of enthusiasm with Idahoans,” said Ahlquist campaign manager David Johnston. “If you have to tout polling to try to convince others you are the front-runner, you are clearly a pretty weak one.”

Neither Democratic candidate for governor was even mentioned in either of the polls.

But Luke Mayville, co-founder of the group Reclaim Idaho, said Jordan’s candidacy is indicative of a movement gathering strength in the state — groups that could rally behind her campaign for governor.

“And a lot of those groups are eager to participate proactively in elections because for years they’ve been working mainly against something — namely to block awful legislation — and now they see these elections as a chance to work for something,” Mayville said.

Still, Paulette Jordan said she isn’t taking anything for granted.

“Even women in [Idaho] think that other women cannot win this race, because they believe that other women should not be able to excel to higher levels of governance,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of women who thought we should never have a woman president. There’s a lot of work we need to do.”