Although the Republican primary election is several months away, it’s starting to feel like April as far as the governor’s race is concerned.
It’s getting testy now, and will be getting downright nasty before it’s over. On the bright side, we’ll have for a change a Republican nominee for governor who is elected, rather than anointed. On the dark side, all three of the major candidates have flaws that will be exposed in campaign ads and on debate stages.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little has been Gov. Butch Otter’s friend and right-hand man for the better part of 12 years, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. Congressman Raul Labrador wants to cut the bejeebers out of state government, which makes a lot of people nervous. Then there’s Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist, a bright guy with big ideas, but he doesn’t have a public voting record.
Little and Labrador have records that can be embraced, or picked apart. For Ahlquist, all voters have to go on is what he says, and when he says it. He’s providing plenty of fodder for those in the boiler rooms who are following everything that is coming out of his mouth.
Included in some of the opposition research are revelations that Ahlquist has come out for, and against, dam breaching, the use of gubernatorial task forces and government funding for pre-school education. He now supports President Trump, after strongly opposing him during the election campaign. He has been for, and against, Urban Renewal funding for the Nampa library, one of his developments. He has modified his pledge to cut $100 million from the state budget in his first 100 days, saying now that he wants to “reallocate” the money.
But Ahlquist isn’t flinching. He sees the list as little more than trivial pursuit.
“I’m never surprised about what I hear, or how they are going to attack, and we know it is going to get 10 times worse,” he said. Ahlquist probably hasn’t heard the last of his most-publicized flip — contributing $5,000 to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014, then voting for Otter.
The Ahlquist campaign has come up with its own opposition research, accusing Labrador and Little of saying one thing and voting another way “when it really mattered,” said campaign manager David Johnston. “Talk is cheap, but action is what matters, and we invite all Idahoans to evaluate what each candidate has done in their lives.”
Ahlquist says he’s ready to take on any criticisms from his opponents. “When someone is scared, you see it in their eyes, and that’s what I see in these guys (Labrador and Little). They are politicians who are scrambling, and they are scared. One is a D.C. guy who is out of touch with Idaho, who has come back as a mean and ugly guy. The other one is a longtime politician who has been in line longer than anyone to take this.”
So, what do you really think, Tommy?
“If I were one of those guys, I’d be scared too, and I would be attacking with their backroom hacks, because that’s what they are. Rather than justify these sad and pathetic attacks, I’d rather talk about what I believe. This election is not about the past. It’s about the future of Idaho, and I will stand on the stage at any time with these guys to talk about my vision for the future of Idaho,” Ahlquist said.
“If you’re going to judge me, then judge me on my life. Let me stack up my personal life, my business life, my community service, the jobs I’ve created and economies I’ve driven…”
Fair enough. Voters will be evaluating Ahlquist, and the other two major candidates, on their lives and accomplishments. They also will be judged on what they say along the way, and there will be no shortage of “backroom hacks” waiting to pounce on inconsistencies.
If political mashing were a sport in the Olympics, I imagine all three campaigns would be getting medals. I also suspect that May 16 — a day after the primary election — will come as a welcome relief to a lot of Idahoans.
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Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.