Idaho businessman vows to cut budget if elected governor

Political newcomer Tommy Ahlquist said June 13 he’ll slash $100 million from the state budget within his first 100 days in office if he wins the Idaho gubernatorial seat in 2018.

Ahlquist didn’t pinpoint what he plans to cut from Idaho’s general fund, which totaled roughly $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2018. Instead, he said state government should run more efficiently without wasteful spending.

“If you don’t have a culture of excellence where you demand excellence, mediocrity seeps in,” Ahlquist said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The budget promise is just one of the Republican Boise businessman’s goals for the top executive position. It also comes at a time when Ahlquist, who has never held an elected office, is attempting to raise his name recognition in a race that has attracted some of Idaho’s biggest GOP political hitters.

This includes U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher — although as of Tuesday, Fulcher hinted to supporters he would soon drop out to run for another undisclosed political office.

Ahlquist’s campaign has focused on his conservative values ever since announcing his run earlier this year. Yet despite Ahlquist’s claim that he’s a political outsider, many of the ideas listed on campaign materials aren’t new to Idaho.

Like Ahlquist, current and former gubernatorial candidates have promised to attract better paying jobs, invest in education, address health care and limit the role of government — as well as find ways to improve the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

But along with touting similar campaign promises, Ahlquist is beginning to carve out what makes him stand out from his opponents.

For example, Ahlquist took critical aim at Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s reliance on task forces to address Idaho’s biggest challenges. Over the years, Otter has appointed various stakeholders to study education, health care and other hot topic issues with varying degrees of success of actual change.

Ahlquist promised never to form a task force if elected governor. For example, he said finding a way to get more high school graduates who don’t go to college the training needed for a high-paying job needs a hands-on approach rather than getting sidelined to a work group.

“The point is, we’ve been talking about this for too long,” Ahlquist said. “Politicians have been talking about helping these kids for too long. It’s time for leadership.”

Furthermore, Ahlquist’s campaign website is the only gubernatorial site to include a resolution to protect the “sanctity of marriage.”

“(Ahlquist) will fight to protect Idaho’s right to define marriage within our state and support the current definition of marriage in Idaho as law,” his website reads.

But what that means is unclear. When asked what policies he would support that would uphold the Idaho Constitution’s unenforceable and illegal definition of marriage, Ahlquist demurred and said he wouldn’t know until presented with language from the Idaho Legislature.

The U.S. Supreme Court overruled Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban in 2015, but Idaho lawmakers have declined to take steps to remove the 2006 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Ahlquist also said he supports repealing the state’s K-12 education standards. Idaho adopted the so-called “Common Core” standards in 2010. There have been calls for repeal for years, but so far those efforts have failed.

Labrador has supported repeal of the standards, while Little hasn’t taken a public stance on the topic.

Ahlquist is an emergency room doctor turned successful developer who has built more than 2 million square feet of commercial property in Idaho. He’s the chief operating officer of Gardner Company and the developer of Boise’s Zions Bank, the tallest building in Idaho.

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