BOISE – Tommy Ahlquist launched his Republican campaign for governor of Idaho on Wednesday, addressing nearly 400 people closely crowded into the 17th-floor conference room of the Zions Bank building in downtown Boise, which Ahlquist’s company built.
“I’m a doer and I’m a fixer, and I will work my heart out for the families and the children of this great state,” the longtime emergency room doctor and prominent and successful Boise developer told the crowd.
Already in the 2018 governor’s race are Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little and former GOP state Sen. Russ Fulcher. GOP Congressman Raul Labrador has expressed interest in the race but hasn’t announced if he’ll run.
Ahlquist was introduced by three-time Olympic gold medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong, who told the cheering supporters, “This is the day we are going to go out and start our race.”
Armstrong, who also accompanied Ahlquist to announcements Wednesday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Kimberly, said, “I’m not one to sit on the sidelines – oh, and by the way, I like to win,” drawing cheers and applause from the assembled supporters, a crowd that was heavy on 20- to 40-somethings in business dress.
Ahlquist, 49, who is 6-foot-5, is an unusual candidate. After a video was shown telling his story – with the frequently displayed tagline, “Tommy Ahlquist M.D., Conservative Republican” – Armstrong gave him her rousing endorsement and introduction. He came to the podium to cheers, paused, and said, “This is really weird.” Amid laughter, he said, “That was Kristin Armstrong, who just introduced me, everybody!”
Ahlquist talked of the lessons he learned from his grandfather, from hard work and self reliance to the value of free enterprise. “As a small businessman, I am not a politician,” he said. “I understand our economy. I understand how to create jobs … because I’ve done it.”
He vowed to reduce government regulation; declared Obamacare a “disaster” that he said forced changes at every level of health care delivery; and pledged to improve education in Idaho, which he said is “near the bottom in everything.”
“As one of you, not a politician, I promise to streamline government and then get out of the way,” he said.
After Wednesday’s four announcements around the state, Ahlquist plans a 97-city campaign tour of Idaho.
Armstrong, after his talk, said, “I look up to Tommy. I’ve worked for so many people in my life. He’s that guy that everyone wants to work for, do things for, because he gets thing done.”
Armstrong doesn’t work for Ahlquist but she said if he’s elected governor – “when he becomes governor,” in her words – she wants to be part of his administration. “Whatever it is, whatever that role may be … I want to be part and make change,” she said. “I want to be a voice, I want to advocate for our kids.”
The office tower site where Ahlquist made his Boise announcement was long known as the “Boise Hole,” after the historic Eastman Building burned down in huge overnight fire in 1987, and then proposal after proposal fell through to redevelop the site, leaving it vacant, smack in the middle of downtown, for 25 years. Ahlquist’s company invested millions to build the tallest building in Idaho; it opened in February 2014 and now houses busy restaurants and offices.
Ahlquist said his development company has invested $331 million in Idaho and created thousands of jobs. It has developed more than 2 million square feet of retail, office, residential and medical space in the state. As an emergency-room doctor, he said he’s seen more than 40,000 patients.
“I know the people of Idaho – I’ve cared for them in their times of greatest need,” he said. He promised “a conservative blueprint for building an even better Idaho.”
Current Gov. Butch Otter has announced he won’t run again after he completes his third term.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter