The new City Club of Southern Idaho hosted a forum Monday for GOP gubernatorial candidates Brad Little, Tommy Ahlquist and Raul Labrador.

Labrador, apparently, had more important things to do than face off against his opponents for Magic Valley voters. He did not attend, nor explain why. And no, it wasn’t because he had business in the U.S. House of Representatives; Monday was a federal holiday, and Congress did not meet.

That’s too bad, because besides snubbing local voters, Labrador missed a fascinating discussion about the future of Idaho and how Little and Ahlquist, respectively, plan to lead and govern.

By the end of the forum, one thing was clear: Either man will do it with dignity and class. That’s a stark contrast to the toxic rhetoric Republicans are spewing from Washington these days. (Only the most recent case in point: The president’s infamous “s—-hole” remarks.)

While Little and Ahlquist have so far run campaigns that have remained largely civil, Labrador has drawn recent criticism for infective remarks. When Boise State University President Bob Kustra rightly pointed out that Labrador failed to unconditionally condemn the white supremacists at their murderous rally in Charlottesville, Labrador called for Kustra to resign. In May, Labrador told a town hall that “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” Expect to see that gaffe in plenty of campaign ads between now and November.

Little and Ahlquist made no such gaffes at Monday’s forum. Instead, they spoke with passion and detail about how their plans for taxes, education, health care and infrastructure will make Idaho an even better place to live. They were charismatic, well-spoken and polite.

Yes, there was a little banter and some light jabs between the candidates, but they drew chuckles from the nearly 200 people in the crowd. Each man was able to explain his positions without trying to knock the other candidate. Nor did they dip into the noxious well of divisive partisan rhetoric to which we’ve become so accustomed.

How refreshing.

And how fitting for a City Club forum, whose mission is to promote civil dialogue on the community’s most pressing issues.

Our representatives in Washington would be well-served by following the example of Little and Ahlquist, who are proving it’s possible to lead a political movement based on ideas, not partisan tribalism. The approach works well with Idahoans, who have a long tradition of disdaining bare-knuckle, dirty politics.

What our state – and our country – needs now are leaders who win by inspiring, not tearing others down to elevate their own egos or provoke primal rage in their bases.

Kudos to the City Club of Southern Idaho and Little and Ahlquist for showing that’s still possible, at least in Idaho.