GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Vision, Attacks in Debate
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's top Republican gubernatorial candidates traded barbs in between laying out their vision for Idaho during their second televised debate on Monday.
Candidates took questions on education, taxes and health care, as well as denouncing the increasing attacks by their opponents as the May 15 primary election day near. The event was televised by Idaho Public Television.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, a four-term congressman, pushed his aggressive economic plan to cut nearly a $1 billion of the state's taxes, or roughly 30 percent of the state's annual general fund budget.
"We have $3 billion in tax loopholes, some of those benefit the state, most of those do not benefit the state," Labrador said. "You can actually do a tax shift. That's what tax reform is."
Labrador added that he was opposed to the state picking "winners and losers," and said he was against the state's current structure to help incentivize business to move to or expand in Idaho because it harmed the current businesses in the state.
Meanwhile, Boise developer and first-time political candidate Tommy Ahlquist said he would apply a business model in order to find and eliminate wasteful government spending, as well as bring fresh ideas to a state that has long been run by the political establishment.
Unlike Labrador, who said he would require all agency directors to reapply for the positions, Ahlquist said if elected he anticipated keeping both new and old director heads to oversee the state's agencies.
"You can have all the plans you want in life, you can have all the task forces, but if you don't have action, if you don't follow through, you won't get anywhere," Ahlquist said, who has previously promised that unlike Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, he would not create any task forces if elected.
"We need to change the status quo," Ahlquist added.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little maintained that Idaho was on the right path to continue growing and attracting new businesses, but his experience working with Otter and the Idaho Legislature was needed to ensure the state's future success.
Little proposed tax cut plan would cost Idaho around $116 million in its first year, which includes reducing the general fund by $27.9 million to lower the top personal and corporate income tax rates by a tenth of a percent and $9 million for the business equipment property tax break.
"We've had revenue over these past two years that went up $400 million, I don't think it's a stretch at all to give the taxpayers during these good times half of their money back," Little said, returning to his previous campaign promise that he would cut $350 million in income taxes over the next several years but not at the expense of cutting education.
All three candidates once came out again in support of eliminating the sales tax on groceries. On education, all three shied away from endorsing a path to a government-funded preschool — which Idaho currently does not fund.
Labrador was the only candidate who said he didn't support changing Idaho's laws that allow families to cite religious reasons for medical decisions without fear of being charged with neglect or abuse. Little and Ahlquist said they would have to consider the legislation before weighing in on the issue.
Ahlquist refused to answer directly if he would sign legislation allowing women to be prosecuted if they had an abortion, saying he didn't want to participate in a "theoretical" situation. Little and Labrador both agreed that while they opposed abortion, they thought charging women with first-degree murder — which would allow for the death penalty — went too far.
In between talking about policy positions, the candidates took time to critique each other's attack ads.
"Probably one of the most disturbing ones was I was driving my 15-year-old daughter a couple of weeks ago and she pulled up an ad that was being run by one of my opponents with me dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit saying that I was a dirty, filthy racist," said Ahlquist.
Labrador quickly responded the claim came from a blog written by one of his supporters, adding that he did not endorse it and neither was his campaign involved.
"My campaign had nothing to do with that blog and I actually asked him to take down that picture because I found it to be offensive," said Labrador, who then accused Ahlquist of lying about Labrador's support of President Donald Trump and his immigration involvement.
Little said the biggest lie that's been spread about him so far during the campaign was by Ahlquist's campaign that he was not a conservative and that he would raise taxes.
"I've governed, whether I was serving the Senate or as lieutenant governor, with the lightest possible hand of government," he said.