Democratic gubernatorial candidate discusses education, Medicaid expansion, public lands

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - KMVT sat down with Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff about his upcoming bid to become the next Idaho Governor. He outlined three major issues he wanted to discuss.

Balukoff started off his statewide tour Wednesday in Pocatello and made his way to Twin Falls on Thursday morning.

He says three major points are meaningful investments: schools and education, expanding Medicaid and protecting access to public lands from private interests.

Balukoff said the main reason why he ran in 2014 was because "Idaho's public schools are at the bottom of the barrel." After four years, he said nothing has changed.

"The education funding has come up a little bit, but it hasn't moved us really in comparison to other states in the union," he said.

He said the go-on rate to college is below national averages and that "we need to take seriously the constitutional mandate to provide a uniform and thorough system of public schools."

"We need take steps to make sure that kid, the children’s education opportunities do not really matter where you live," he said.

Balukoff said when he was in Pocatello, he read about a school in Weston, Idaho, that was named one of the Title I Distinguished Schools in the United States.

"I want to go down there and visit that school and see what they're doing," he continued. "And see if we can implement what they're doing right and other Title I schools around our state."

Medicaid Expansion
Balukoff said after four years, discussion of whether to expand Medicaid or not is still on-going and he wants to change that.

"I think it out to be a fairly easy thing to do to get Medicaid expansion passed and cover 78,000 working families, veterans, children who currently don't have access to healthcare because they don't have health insurance" he said.

He said those working families do not earn enough to be able to buy health insurance or qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

"We're paying in federal income tax and helping more than other 30 states expand Medicaid through the coverage in their states," he continued. "Why don't we take some of that money we paid in back and cover these 78,000 people who don't have health insurance."

Public Lands
Balukoff said part of the reason why he moved to Idaho 35 years ago was because of the public lands Idaho offered. He wants to protect the lakes, rivers and forests from outside special interests.

"It's part of our tradition, our heritage, to go up into the mountains, go whitewater rafting, to hike, to fish, to camp," he expressed.

He said the lands in Idaho are owned "in partnership with the rest of the citizens of the United States of America."

"We own them and we pay for the management as a nation, and we pay for fire suppression cost as a nation. We don't want to do that. We don’t want to do that, just Idahoans, because we can’t afford that," he continued. "So, we’re best off leaving it in the hands of the federal land managers, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and working with them to give the access we need to do the things we would like to do in our public lands."

Balukoff said for a strong economy and having good jobs depends on a strong educational system.

"If you don't have an excellent education system that produces the workers these companies need, they really don't have an incentive to come here," he said, regarding bringing in businesses.

Balokoff said he's learned a lot from the last time he ran in 2014 against Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and for the upcoming race, there is no incumbent.

"We'll be better at the grassroots and get around to more of the counties and the cities and the rural areas, and let people meet me and learn who I am and what my values are," he continued. "I'll be able to listen to them and hear what is of greatest concern to the citizens of Idaho."

As for running in a Democratic party in a known Republican state, he said it's time for a change.

"We've had Republican domination in our state government for 57 years and the results are dismal. We're at the bottom, and people are recognizing that," he said.

Balukoff will be in Ketchum Thursday evening and heads to Coeur d'Alene on Friday. Saturday he will be back in Boise to meet Reclaim Idaho and work on getting signatures to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

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