FORT HALL, Idaho — Two Republican candidates for Idaho governor shared their visions with potato farmers Nov. 14 on topics such as helping rural America, providing relief for small business owners and reversing the trend of Idaho youths leaving the state to start careers.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a third-generation rancher, and Tommy Ahlquist, a developer, business owner and emergency room doctor, spoke during the Idaho Potato Commission’s Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting, hosted at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, is also among the front-runners in the race for governor but couldn’t attend the forum due to votes in Washington, D.C.
Little emphasized that Idaho leads the nation in both job and income growth, and he believes the state’s large cities are benefiting from increasingly diversified economies.
“We’re on a pretty good trajectory,” Little said. “Idaho has one of the most solid fiscal positions of all 50 states, and vastly superior to the federal government.”
But Little said he’s concerned about rural Idaho, and described how his hometown, Emmett, lost its major employer when its sawmill closed.
Little said the potato industry has been “in the lead” of adding value to its commodity in Idaho, processing potatoes into frozen products at local plants, and he believes other Idaho commodities must follow suit. Little said he’s participated in foreign trade missions to develop new foreign markets for Idaho agricultural products. He also emphasized the need to better prepare students as early as seventh-grade for careers that may not require a college degree, such as working in a modern Idaho food processing plant.
Ahlquist, who grew up on a small farm in Hunter, Utah, has worked as an emergency room doctor, is chief operating officer of the real estate development company Garden Co., and is a founder of Stat PADS, a major manufacturer of medical defibrillators.
“Idaho feeds the world, and I want you to know that I understand that,” said Ahlquist, who has chosen an Oakley farmer, Todd Cranney, as his “right-hand man” for his first campaign for public office.
Ahlquist said he empathizes with farmers, who run small businesses, because he’s encountered “stifling” state and federal regulations as a business owner. He hopes to change the state’s business culture.
“In Idaho, if you are a special interest group or a big company, you will be taken care of,” Ahlquist said. “But if you are a family or small business in Idaho, you won’t be.”
Ahlquist believes the state is too focused on college education and ought to place greater emphasis on preparing students for “the jobs sitting all around us,” including apprenticeships and work-study programs.
Ahlquist also supports “rolling back regulations that have destroyed medicine” and suggests the state needs a “crash course on ethics in politics,” especially pertaining to campaign finance laws.
Labrador, who has been invited to address potato growers during the University of Idaho’s late-January potato conference in Pocatello, submitted a statement to Capital Press highlighting his efforts on behalf of agriculture. Labrador said he introduced legislation that has streamlined grazing permit renewals, and he’s proposed legislation to force environmentalists to pay legal fees for “frivolous lawsuits.”
“I’ve also supported Idaho’s right to manage sage grouse, rejected federal restrictions on our lands and stood up against the (Environmental Protection Agency), leading the fight to repeal Waters of the U.S. regulatory overreach,” Labrador said in his statement.