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Politics & Government

Top Republicans Face Off In Idaho Governor Debate

James Dawson

This weekend, Idaho’s leading Republican candidates for governor jabbed at each other at one of the first debates of the season, each promising they’re the most qualified to lead Idaho into the future.

Nearly a third of Saturday’s debate sponsored by 670 KBOI and KBOI-TV focused on Idaho’s tax system.

Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist repeatedly told the crowd at Mountain View High School he would bring a new perspective to the job.

“We have an antiquated system that has not been looked at for years and everywhere you go when you go to these small communities and talk about what’s going on with them, they all have complaints about tax policy in Idaho,” says Ahlquist. "It’s because it doesn’t ever have a fresh look.”

He says he wants a “fair and flat” tax system, but didn’t offer specifics.

Ahlquist, Congressman Raul Labrador and Lt. Gov. Brad Little all want to repeal the sales tax for groceries.

Labrador has long touted his plan for a five percent rate on personal and corporate income, as well as the sales tax. He says he would also dump exemptions used to lure new business to Idaho.

“I want to see growth in Idaho, but I want that growth to pay for itself and the only way we can do that is by making sure that everyone is treated exactly the same,” Labrador says.

Little vows to lower taxes as well. Any new tax break would have to be offset elsewhere in the budget, he says.

Because of his long ties to the state legislature, Little promises he’s the only candidate who can actually put these ideas into law.

“I have a grasp of what it takes in this state to govern – what it takes to get a consensus in the legislature, to get the votes necessary to continue to modernize, for Idaho to continue to lead.”

Ahlquist and Labrador feasted on that consensus-building, establishment approach. They both told the crowd that Idaho government would not be run with a business as usual approach.

An emergency room doctor turned developer, Ahlquist says he’ll slash the state budget by $100 million immediately after assuming office, though it’s unclear where it would come from.

Labrador has refined his brand as the consummate political outsider during his four terms in Congress by co-founding the conservative House Freedom Caucus – a group that blocked a Republican overhaul of the Affordable Care Act because it wouldn't have completely repealed the law. The group also pressured former House Speaker John Boehner to leave office.

“If you want to get rid of the cronyism in Idaho, I’m the one to do it,” Labrador says.

Defending guns

When asked, “What practical reason can you give for citizens owning large magazine assault weapons,” all three candidates said firearms are not to blame for mass shootings across the country, of which there have been 63 in 2018 alone, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Tommy Ahlquist: “We have a mental health problem, we have a school safety problem. We do not have a gun problem in this country.”

Raul Labrador: “We need to make sure that when we know somebody is a danger to the community that person needs to be arrested. That person needs to be put in the right process and then their right of owning guns will be taken away from them.”

Little: “There’s a system right now where [people buying guns] are supposed to be checked. In many areas, those checks are not taking place. That law needs to be enforced.”

Note: A report by the American Psychiatric Association found that violent crimes committed by people with serious mental illnesses accounted for just three percent of all violent crime committed.

Bolstering K-12 and higher education

Ahlquist: “We need to connect Idaho kids, our kids right here in Idaho, to Idaho jobs right in the community. Many of those do not require a 2-4 year degree. And then at the higher education level, my goodness, let’s make our higher ed funded based on connecting Idaho kids to Idaho companies through higher education.”

Labrador: “I think we’re spending too much time concentrating on making sure every kid goes to college. I think we need to give [students] different opportunities. We need to identify early what path they want to take, what things they want to do.”

Little: “I believe we need to give these educators, particularly in [kindergarten through third grade] a smorgasbord of options for the ability for them to get these kids reading proficiently at the end of the third grade, because you can’t do science, math, career/technical and the rest of those programs if we don’t have a great literacy program.”

Bringing jobs to Idaho

Ahlquist: “Let’s take care of [small businesses] with providing the policies that allow them to thrive and grow. Then we’ll create an environment where we’ll be able to bring in higher paying jobs, but we need someone that has done it that hasn’t talked about it.”

Labrador: “A person who stands up here and tells you that he or she is going to create jobs, they’re telling you that they have the magic wand to make things happen. The reality is the economy can do that. How we can do that is by making sure that we lower our taxes, we reduce the burden of the regulatory environment and we make sure that we have an environment in Idaho that people want to create jobs and invest in Idaho.”

Little: “Taxes need to be fair, simple, predictable and competitive. You need to have the lightest possible hand in government in the day-to-day lives. A lot of times what you have to do is facilitate…the coordination between the local government, the city government, the county government, the state government and, sometimes, the federal government to make sure that those regulatory hurdles are out of the way.”

Voters will cast their ballot in the May 15 primary.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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