BOISE — The campaign websites for Idaho’s two candidates running for state schools chief contained nearly the exact same language, causing the Democratic candidate to accuse her opponent of plagiarism. The GOP candidate has taken full responsibility for what happened.
As first reported on Wednesday by Idaho Education News, Democratic candidate Jana Jones said her site was published almost two months before Republican candidate Sherri Ybarra announced her candidacy.
“I appreciate my opponent taking responsibility for plagiarizing content from my website, but the fact that it happened at all is troubling,” Jones said in a statement. “Integrity matters in this office, and so does attention to detail.”
Campaign spokeswoman Melinda Nothern said Ybarra was declining to answer questions, but Nothern offered a statement saying Ybarra — who works as a curriculum director for the Mountain Home School District — was “surprised” to learn the two sites had the same language.
“I sent my web managers copy regarding issues and positioning statements,” Ybarra said in the statement. “They wrote other copy points on the contact page; however, I take responsibility for final copy content.”
Ybarra’s statement did not address whether she would fire her web manager, or if she or her web managers had read Jones’ campaign page before creating and the publishing the website. The statement did not contain an apology from Ybarra, but the section containing the same language from Jones’ site had changed shortly after she released the statement.
Requests for more information from the Ybarra campaign were not answered as of Thursday.
The similar language appeared in a 46-word paragraph that only had the difference of eight words on web pages called “Join Team Ybarra” and “Join Team Jones.”
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to have the kind of education system we want for Idaho’s kids. It’s also going to take all of us: parents, students, educators, business leaders, elected officials, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, working together to make it happen,” Jones’ site reads.
On Ybarra’s page, it read: “We want a brighter future for Idaho’s children. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to have the kind of education system we want for Idaho’s kids. Parents, students, educators, business leaders, elected officials, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, working together to make it happen.”
Ybarra has since removed the paragraph.
She later removed from the website identical language on where supporters can leave a comment.
On Jones’ site it reads: “Sign up below to receive frequent updates from Jana. Use the optional message box to share your thoughts and ideas with us regarding education in Idaho. You can also select how you would like to help campaign.”
Ybarra’s site had the same language but included her name instead and added “Idaho Republican” before the word “campaign.”
Jones campaign spokesman Robert Allen said that both he and Jones wrote the copy for the website before it launched on Jan. 7.
“We haven’t changed that section since,” Allen said. “The fact is we haven’t made any changes to most of the website since it went up.”
Neither Ybarra nor her campaign had reached out to the Jones’ campaign about the matter, Allen said.
Idaho GOP chairman Steve Yates called the situation “unfortunate,” but he said he doubted that it would cause much harm to Ybarra’s campaign,
“This is plain, vanilla prose,” Yates said. “It is still unclear what, if any, real damage was done.”
It would be more damaging if her website had copied Jones’ education policy, he said, but her opponent seemed to be seeking “an expansive accusation of plagiarism.”
This isn’t the first time Ybarra’s website has given the Republican candidate trouble.
In early August, Ybarra’s website erroneously cited her former GOP rival Randy Jensen as a member of her campaign team. Jensen was listed as one of five members of campaign team even though Jensen said he had never accepted an invitation to work with Ybarra and declined to endorse her.
Ybarra’s site had also incorrectly listed House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star as a senator within the section of state lawmakers who have publicly endorsed her.