BOISE — The GOP primary field to become Idaho’s next governor just got a little more crowded.
Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist made it official Wednesday morning that he is seeking the job, making his announcement before a crowd of several hundred supporters on the 17th floor of the Zions Bank building downtown that his company built.
Ahlquist spoke of his family, his experiences as a doctor and a businessman how his background would qualify him for the state’s top job. Ahlquist said he knows how to create jobs, “not because I’ve read about it in a report, not because it’s theory to me, but because I’ve done it.”
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has said he isn’t running for another term. Lt. Gov. Brad Little and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher have already declared they intend to run for the job. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has also said he is thinking about it. The primary is in May 2018.
No Democrats have declared their candidacy, although Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, wrote a letter to Ahlquist late last week asking him to run for governor as a Democrat. Ahlquist contributed money to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s campaign against Otter in 2014.
Ahlquist told KTVB Tuesday he contributed to Balukoff out of friendship but is a Republican and voted for Otter.
Ahlquist used to be an emergency room doctor and condemned the Affordable Care Act, saying it led to higher premiums and drove up the national debt.
“I know it was a disaster not because I read about it but because I lived it,” he said. He said the Trump administration and possible repeal of the ACA will pose “tremendous challenge but also tremendous opportunity” to Idaho. Ahlquist would like to see a state-designed system to meet the state’s health-care needs.
Ahlquist said Idaho is still behind in education and he believes in school choice, local control, accountability and transparency, and vocational programs that are responsive to local economic needs.
“I promise a culture of excellence that will begin in the governor’s office and then will chase away mediocrity at every level of education in the state,” he said.
Ahlquist said he would like to see solutions “and not another task force,” an apparent swipe at the task forces the Otter administration has used to study education.
State House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Wednesday he considers Ahlquist, Little, Fulcher and Labrador all to be friends, but isn’t ready to endorse.
Ahlquist has said he plans to go on a 97-city tour to promote his candidacy and he got off to a quick stop Wednesday, with campaign stops after his announcement in Idaho Falls, Kimberly and Coeur d’Alene.
In Kimberly, Ahlquist visited Layne Pumps to meet with owner Keith Hardy and tour the facility. The company engineers and assembles pumps for industrial irrigation equipment.
“We wanted to go to somewhere where we could see some industry and tour business,” he said.
Hardy said he thought the visit went well.
“He was willing to listen and I could see he was sincere,” Hardy said.