LEWISTON — Tommy Ahlquist has any number of ideas for what he’d like to accomplish as governor of Idaho, but if he had to settle on just one thing it would be to help small businesses thrive.
“I believe the economy of Idaho rests on the backs of small businesses. I hope I’m remembered as the small-business governor,” Ahlquist said, speaking to about a half-dozen people at the Lewiston Elks Lodge Thursday evening. “I’m going to be the business guy; we’re going to fight for kids and jobs.”
The Republican candidate spent about an hour answering questions. He held similar campaign stops earlier in the day in Grangeville, Orofino and Nezperce, as part of his “44 Counties in 44 Days” tour.
Ahlquist, who grew up in Utah, is a real estate developer and retired emergency room doctor. Although the primary purpose of the statewide tour is to discuss his blueprint for improving Idaho’s future, he ended up fielding questions on everything from legalizing marijuana to whether he’s really a Democrat.
“It’s true that I’ve given money to (Democratic candidates), but I’ve given a lot more to Republicans,” Ahlquist said. “I believe I have a track record of getting stuff done, so (his political opponents) are attacking me wherever they can.”
He pointed to his blueprint for Idaho as evidence of his conservative values. Although it’s a bit lacking in detail at this point, it includes reducing government mandates and regulations for small businesses, as well as the education system; support for school choice; and moving to a “flatter, fairer, more competitive” tax system.
“My problem is the state doesn’t really have a vision for tax policy. We don’t know where we’re going,” Ahlquist said. If he’s elected, though, “on Day One we’ll pull in experts on tax policy to create a flatter, fairer tax structure.”
He also supports tying government spending to growth in personal income, to ensure that the state budget doesn’t grow faster than the economy as a whole.
On the education front, Ahlquist measures student achievement based on reading proficiency, math skills, high school graduation rates and career readiness. He also wants to strengthen the connection between schools and industry, so students have a better idea what jobs are available in their communities.
“The role of government is to create pathways so kids stay in Idaho,” Ahlquist said.
His blueprint for Idaho also includes Medicaid reform, lowering the cost of health insurance by reducing coverage mandates, and term limits and financial disclosure requirements for statewide elected officials.
Responding to questions from the audience, Ahlquist said he is “100 percent opposed” to legalizing marijuana. He also fully supports increased funding for community-based substance abuse treatment, and thinks Idaho should make every effort to take over stewardship of federal timber and grazing lands.
He also supports modernizing the state’s liquor license laws.
“They’re antiquated and stifling business,” he said. “I’ll do everything I can to change them. It’s not about having more bars; it’s about economic development.”
Ahlquist is one of eight Republicans — including Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Congressman Raul Labrador — who have filed to run for governor so far. The Republican primary takes place in May. To date, no Democrats have filed for the race.