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Lt. Gov. Brad Little

Lt. Gov. Brad Little speaks April 18, 2017, during the Jerome 20/20 forum at the Jerome Country Club in Jerome.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

Republican

Businessman Tommy Ahlquist and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador have shared more than their fair share of jabs and attack ads. Standing behind the dust is Brad Little, who spent nearly a decade as a state senator and another near-decade as lieutenant governor.

Ahlquist has big ideas, including his claim last summer that he would cut $100 million from the state budget in his first 100 days in office. That cut now looks more like a less-flashy reallocation of resources, and is emblematic of Ahlquist’s biggest shortcoming: political experience.

Ahlquist spent almost two decades as an E.R. doctor, and he professes forward-thinking views on health care. This is likely his biggest advantage over Little, who was right in the mix for the past six years as Idaho’s Medicaid gap remained wide-open.

But Ahlquist also makes the common political outsider claim that Idaho should be run like a business. On the surface, especially for a fiscal conservative, that’s an attractive ideology. But as Little pointed out to the Times-News, he too has business experience, as a rancher. And more importantly, running a state like a business has practical boundaries. A state should certainly have a balanced, fiscally responsible budget, but its primary purpose is not to turn a profit. Little has the right mix of business background, fiscal common sense and firm understanding of government’s role in maintaining the well-being of its residents.

All three Republican gubernatorial candidates have hitched their wagons to President Donald Trump, but none more so than Labrador. After some initial dust-ups with the Freedom Caucus in early 2017, Labrador has repeatedly touted his close proximity to Trump, as he’s the only candidate who works in Washington D.C. During Tuesday’s governor debate, hosted by Idaho Public Television, all three candidates stood firmly in line with Trump on policy, but acknowledged they would not govern with the same “style” the President exhibits.

In our view, the two most pressing issues facing Idaho are education and health care. On education, Little will continue the momentum Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter established during his time as governor. Idaho is addressing its educational shortcomings, and Little seems open to changing both the education funding formula and the way high schools prepare students for the workforce.

Labrador, and especially Ahlquist, have qualities that would make them strong choices for governor. But the best choice in the May 15 Republican primary is Brad Little.

Democrat

Paulette Jordan, a recent state representative from Plummer, took this race by storm. After just four years as a state legislator from northern Idaho, Jordan is running to be the country’s first Native American governor, and she would be the first woman to serve as governor in Idaho history.

But to do so, she’ll need to first beat who we think is the best candidate on the Democratic ticket: businessman A.J. Balukoff.

Jordan’s platform includes some traditional Democratic views, including a focus on expanding Medicaid and clean energy. During Monday’s televised debate, she and Balukoff agreed on most topics. The one stark difference was Jordan’s support for decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Jordan has some big endorsements, including Planned Parenthood and Cher. But when it comes to support within Idaho, Balukoff takes the cake.

Despite never holding a state elected office, Balukoff carries support from Democratic state and congressional lawmakers across the board. That’s a troubling trend for Jordan, who spent four years with colleagues in the statehouse, only to have them turn around and endorse Balukoff.

While their views are generally in sync, Balukoff has two key advantages over Jordan: accessibility and experience in education.

Balukoff’s experience in education is unquestioned: He has served more than 20 years on the Boise School Board. And we would have liked to hear more about Jordan’s platform directly from her, but her campaign did not respond to several attempts to arrange a meeting time. Of the five major candidates for governor, Jordan and Republican Raul Labrador were the only ones who did not travel to the Magic Valley for a meeting with the Times-News.

Balukoff secured in a landslide the Democratic nomination in the 2014 election, before falling to incumbent Gov. Otter in the general election. He earned 38 percent of votes statewide, compared to Otter’s 53.

Balukoff has the connections and experience to give it another go in the general election. He is the best candidate on the Democratic ticket.

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