By Bryan Clark
Tommy Ahlquist visited eastern Idaho on Wednesday after completing a tour of 97 cities around the state.
Ahlquist, who spent nearly two decades as a Boise physician before leaving medicine in 2015 to focus on real estate development in the Treasure Valley, is one of four Republican candidates vying to replace outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in 2018.
“We need fresh ideas and a new approach in this state,” Ahlquist said. “I believe with the right policies and vision from the executive branch, we can build a better Idaho.”
Ahlquist argues the state has suffered from a “lack of vision and leadership in the executive branch,” and said he could provide that leadership on the economy, education and health care.
Ahlquist said he views the governorship as a post to provide leadership for the state as a whole in ways that the Legislature cannot. Lawmakers often represent particular regional interests and views, he argued, but the governor can provide a statewide vision. He said he would focus on issues that are common throughout the state.
“I was surprised how disconnected we are from region to region,” he said. “I think it’s more than animosity. I think it’s feeling forgotten. … Geographically, we’re separate. But the issues we are facing are very much the same.”
Ahlquist said these common problems include insufficient skills in the labor force that could be addressed through education. But Ahlquist expressed skepticism about increases in education funding as the means to improve the system.
“There’s got to be a point where it’s more than just funding,” he said. “… We’re at 63 percent (of the general fund budget). Where do you stop? Is it 70? 75? There’s got to be a point where it’s something more than just funding.”
Ahlquist said emphasizing local control by reducing state and federal mandates would do more to improve the education system.
“No one loves these kids more than the local jurisdictions,” he said.
Ahlquist said he hopes with Republicans controlling Washington, there may be opportunities for the state to gain more control over health care programs such as Medicaid. He said he would support measures to increase “personal accountability” in the Medicaid program, for example, by allowing health care providers to charge Medicaid patients copays.
Ahlquist favors competition as a means to lower health care costs. He said it should be easier for patients to compare the price and quality of medical procedures to make informed decisions.
Ahlquist demurred when asked for specific positions on the 1995 Settlement Agreement concerning cleanup efforts at the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site and the shipment of research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to Idaho National Laboratory.
“I know there’s a lot of disagreement, and I know INL is a big driver of the economy down here,” he said. “… I’m for whatever is good for the INL.”