By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
MERIDIAN, Idaho (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist laid out his political agenda Thursday to hundreds of supporters in Meridian while kicking off his statewide tour to visit all of Idaho's 44 counties over 44 days.
Ahlquist promised to improve Idaho's educational system, work to lower health care premiums for Idahoans and reform the state's tax code.
The first-time political candidate also reiterated his promise to cut $100 million in the state's budget within the first 100 days in office.
"I plan on finding it easily," Ahlquist said. "I'll absolutely find it within 100 days and I'll probably find more."
However, the Republican hasn't released many details on whether the cuts would come from spending or lower taxes. Ahlquist pointed to the state employee health insurance as a possible source for major reform and tax savings — though estimates to how much changing the system would save Idaho has varied over the year.
The promise has raised eyebrows from legislative budget writers and sparked scrutiny from critics about where the cuts could come from when the state budget is often described as already lean.
Ahlquist told The Associated Press on Thursday that Idaho families shouldn't be threatened by the goal of cutting unnecessary spending, adding that the state's entire budget is more than $3.5 billion.
The Boise businessman held the campaign rally at the Meridian-base candle company Scentsy headquarters — where the CEO was one of Ahlquist's early supporters.
"They haven't seen anything yet," Ahlquist said to cheers from the crowd.
As a newcomer to the political scene, the 49-year-old former physician promised to bring a fresh approach to Idaho's political system.
"I like having someone who has a positive agenda," said Greg Gamette, who attended the rally with his kids. "He isn't someone who is part of the establishment."
Ahlquist is running for governor against GOP U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Lt. Gov. Brad Little in 2018 — no major Democratic candidate has yet entered the race. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has previously said he won't seek a fourth term.