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Former Governor Candidate Paulette Jordan To Challenge Idaho Senator Jim Risch

Amanda Peacher
Mountain West News Bureau

Paulette Jordan, the 2018 Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has made it official: she’s entering a growing field of politicians trying to topple the state’s junior senator, Jim Risch, 76 (R).



Jordan, 40, lost her historic bid for governor as the state’s first woman candidate from a mainstream party to Brad Little (R) by more than 20 points after besting longtime Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff in the primary.


She previously served as a state representative from Plummer in northern Idaho, as well as a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council.


She’s now one of four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, including former Caldwell businesswoman Nancy Harris, Shelley farmer Travis Oler and Jim Vandermaas, who unsuccessfully ran for the party’s nod for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District two years ago.


Jordan lists the environment, healthcare and cyber security as her top priorities in the campaign.


“I’ve always been the champion and a dire advocate on [the environment] because it’s closest to my heart and I often remind people that this is part of my genetic code,” she told Boise State Public Radio Wednesday, referencing her Native American heritage.


If elected, she said she wants to tackle climate change on a broad level, but also issues more local to the Northwest.


Since the 2018 election, Jordan has started the nonprofit Save the American Salmon, which advocates for breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River in an effort to resuscitate struggling runs as fish try to cope with rising water temperatures and low oxygen levels.


That stance is anathema to farmers in north-central Idaho who rely on a dammed Snake River to cheaply ship their harvest on barges downriver to Portland, Oregon, and eventually, export it to their Pacific Rim trading partners.


Despite her push toward a greener future and harmony with the environment, she raised eyebrows among conservationists two years ago over comments made during an interview with Outside Magazine.


“When it comes to the wilderness areas, I just think that management needs to be—there needs to be more management not less,” she told the publication.


Areas designated under the Wilderness Act of 1964 enjoy the highest level of protection among public lands in the United States – even more than national parks, which is a different classification. Roads are verboten, as are motorized vehicles and even bicycles in an effort to preserve “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”


When Outside Magazine pressed Jordan on what she meant, specifically timber management, which is also banned in wilderness areas, she responded, “I just think every so often it needs to be thinned to a point to where it’s healthy enough, but not to be logging to clear-cut or anything like that.”


“I think that that quote, I think it was unfair because it wasn’t, necessarily, meant to address that we’re going to be mismanaging the lands, it’s just that we have to figure out the best solutions,” she told Boise State Public Radio this week.


When asked again whether she would push to open up protections for wilderness areas, which she seemed to conflate with national parks, specifically mentioning Yellowstone National Park, “All of those national parks should be protected and there should not be any logging as far as going in to heavily cut. I think it needs to be protected and left the way it is,” Jordan said.


As far as her health policy, she says she wants everyone to have “adequate healthcare,” though it’s unclear whether that means a Medicare-for-all model pushed by Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), or simply a public option.


“All that comes down to integrated solutions and holistic healthcare that is really the new way forward, but it’s only attainable and accessible to the wealthy few,” Jordan said.

Her 2018 gubernatorial campaign raised questions among political insiders. Five key staff members quit at critical times, including just days before the Democratic Party Primary.

In an interview prior to the last round of resignations that September, Boise State Public Radio asked Jordan to respond to criticisms about her campaign, including staff turnover and her tendency to be late to events.

“You tend to get the hard brunt of everything because you’re a woman and especially when you’re the first, or when you’re of color or when you’re from [rural America] or when you’re this or that, so there’s always an excuse,” she said at the time.

She also defended forcing her campaign staff to sign nondisclosure agreements, something she said was common practice. Neither Little, nor Balukoff, her primary opponent, used nondisclosure agreements.

Famously, President Donald Trump required his campaign staffers – and even aides in the White House – to sign such agreements, which included requirements that these workers not publicly disparage Trump or his family.


Should she lock down her party’s nomination in May, Jordan would face an Idaho political mainstay in Sen. Jim Risch.


Risch cut his teeth in electoral politics as Ada County Prosecutor at the age of 27. Over his roughly 50-year political career, he also served as a state senator, the lieutenant governor, and eventually in 2006, he briefly served as governor.


As of the end of 2019, Risch had amassed nearly $2 million in his senate campaign account.


When asked whether a Democrat could still win a statewide office in Idaho – a feat not accomplished since 2002 when Marilyn Howard won re-election as superintendent of public instruction – Jordan said, “Oh, wholly.”


“Risch may have the financial wealth to begin with, but we have wealth in knowledge. I have wealth in leadership. I extend from thousands of leaders who were great in terms of how they represented their people and they represented the land.”

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!