Libertarian gubernatorial candidate John Bujak said the discord in Idaho’s Republican Party could drive down November voter turnout and help him peel off voters that would ordinarily vote GOP.
“It’s really an environment where anything can happen,” Bujak, a former Canyon County prosecutor who is now a private practice defense attorney, said in an interview Tuesday.
On Saturday, Idaho’s Republicans elected a new chairman, Steve Yates, after after a month of argument about whether Barry Peterson was still chairman after the convention, which ended without a specific vote on new leadership. A number of establishment-aligned Republicans – including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter – faced primary challenges from tea party candidates this year.
Bujak said he has been traveling around the state and spreading the word about his candidacy via the grassroots conservative movement.
“I hear a lot of people that say the same thing: ‘I don’t want to vote for Otter, I won’t vote for a Democrat, I’m looking for some conservative alternative I can get behind,’” Bujak said.
Bujak said that, as a third-party candidate, he plans to focus on campaigning personally, since he’ll never be able to match the advertising dollars that Otter and Democrat A.J. Balukoff will be able to muster.
“(Between) now and Election Day, we’ll be pounding the pavement,” he said.
Bujak was elected Canyon County prosecutor in 2009, but had to resign amid a financial dispute related to Nampa County’s misdemeanor prosecution contract in 2010. He went to trial five times over the three years after, on various charges related to misuse of public funds related to the contract and also to a personal bankruptcy. (Click here for the Idaho Statesman’s timeline of his legal woes.) He was acquitted, though; the last bankruptcy fraud case ended with a “not guilty” verdict in May.
Bujak accused his enemies of targeting him.
“It’s a good example of what happens when politics gets involved,” he said. “I was targeted by the good old boys and was the focus of a witch hunt for the last three years.”
Bujak characterized his political views as generally more conservative than Otter; on many issues, he said, he is closer to state Sen. Russ Fulcher, who took on Otter from the right in this May’s primary.
However, Bujak has a hands-off attitude on social issues.
“I don’t have a strong position on whether the government should legislate morality,” he said.
For example, Bujak said he would drop the state’s appeal of a federal court ruling that will, if upheld, legalize same-sex marriage in Idaho. Looking at the way courts have been trending on the issue, he thinks the state will lose.
“I think the writing’s pretty much on the wall,” he said.
And, he thinks the money spent on the fight could’ve gone to better use.
“That’s $1 million (that) could’ve gone to our schools,” he said.
As for education, Bujak said his biggest issue is rolling back Common Core education standards in Idaho.
“I would do what I can to make sure it went the way of the dodo bird,” he said.
Bujak said school districts and localities should develop their own standards.
“I think it’s different, depending on the community in which you live,” he said. “What works in Boise might be different than a more rural community.”
Bujak said he supports homeschooling, and a voucher system for parents who want to send their kids to private schools.
Per-pupil school spending in Idaho has been dropping for years; Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff has made education his main campaign issues against Otter, saying he would at least re-examine the 2006 law that made school funding more dependent on sales tax revenue and less on property tax.
Bujak said he would need to take a look at how the money is being spent now, before knowing whether spending should go up.
“I’m not so sure there isn’t some fat at the top of the pyramid that can’t be shaved off,” he said.
He also said he would try to get the state Board of Land Commissioners to generate more revenue for the schools.
Bujak said he favors the state’s taking control of federally owned land in Idaho, but thinks it should be done gradually. He thinks the state couldn’t afford to start managing it all at once.
“I think we need to reclaim it in conjunction with a plan to start harvesting in a responsible way,” he said.
As for controlling the state’s wolf population, another area where Otter and Balukoff differ, Bujak said he believes the state needs to control them, but spends too much money on specialized measures like aircraft hunts. Bujak said the state should encourage controlled wolf hunting by sportsmen and others who are going to be out in the field anyway.
“I’m pro-wolf control, and I’m pro using controlled hunts to limit their population in the wild,” he said.
As for the economy, Bujak said Otter has focused too much on drawing large companies to Idaho.
“I don’t think the way you build the economy is inviting big companies like Chobani,” Bujak said. “They simply don’t pay a sustainable wage, or provide a future for the families here that want to raise (a family) in Idaho."
Bujak said he would stop doing this, and focus on giving incentives to small companies instead.
“I’d shift the incentives from the big boys to the small businesses, to give them a break,” he said.