The surprising and unexpected entry of State Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, into next May’s gubernatorial primary virtually guarantees that once again gaming in Idaho will be a major, controversial and divisive issue.
The 38-year-old Jordan will NOT be a single-issue candidate by any means. Rather, the fact that the three-term member of the Legislature is an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which owns and operates the successful casino near Worley, is a former member of the Tribal Council, and sits on the boards of two national native gaming organizations guarantees a debate for the simple reason that much of her funding will come from gaming tribes.
The leading beneficiary of her entry has to be Congressman Raul Labrador’s gubernatorial ambitions. First, by challenging presumptive Democratic nominee, millionaire Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff (who spent $3 million of his own dollars running against Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in 2014), she will cause a number of Democratic and independent voters to abandon plans to switch and vote in the Republican primary.
This could have an adverse impact on Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s campaign, which was quietly counting on moderates in both parties and independents to register as Republicans and cast their votes for him.
Secondly, Jordan’s candidacy will force Balukoff’s campaign to spend money on a primary in which they had every reason to think theirs would be the only name on the ballot.
Make no mistake about it, Jordan is a serious candidate and could even win the Democatic nomination. She is intelligent, articulate and well-educated. A graduate of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, she attended the University of Washington on a basketball scholarship. Over the years she has cultivated national Democratic contacts ranging from members of the Democratic National Committee to friends who worked in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama.
Jordan is the fourth Native American to serve in the Idaho Legislature and the second to run for governor, but is the first Native American female to do so. Three of them were or are members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (Joseph Garry, who served both as a state representative and state senator, and former state Rep. Jeanne Givens).
The only non-Coeur d’Alene was former Attorney General Larry Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee nation, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1992 but narrowly lost to Phil Batt. He served two terms in the Idaho Legislaure before winning the attorney general post.
Jordan’s timing may also be good inasmuch as the sexual harassment of women is emerging as a major issue that many expect will inspire more women to get out and vote, and in particular for any female running against a male.
The issue sure to be raised is that of the on-again, off-again historic horse racing video games that to many sure look like “one-armed bandits.” Many believe this issue breaks for Congressman Labrador, who says it is a form of gambling he would have voted against in 2013. Whether it is actually gaming is still before the courts.
Gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist and Little see it differently than Labrador and say the reversal by the Idaho Legislature in 2015 was a breach of faith by the state with businessmen who invested millions and had started hiring people to work at Les Bois in Boise, the Greyhound Park in Post Falls and a facility in Idaho Falls.
Both say they would have vetoed the repeal legislation.
Gov. Otter vetoed the repeal legislation, but waited too long to exercise his veto. Thus the matter remains in limbo.
As a member in good standing (Coeur d’Alene Chair Chief Allan made it clear Jordan would receive tribal support), Jordan will articulate tribal opposition to the so-called historic racing as an illegal expansion of gaming in Idaho and illegal competition that could threaten the viability of Native-owned casinos.
Not willing to concede any voters to Labrador, especially LDS voters who traditionally have opposed gaming, Alhquist says he is philosophically opposed to all forms of gambling but will leave it to the courts to resolve whether the historic racing video games constitute gaming.
Whether the issue supercedes Jordan’s other issues remains to be seen, but at a minimum she certainly has livened things up.
A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.