By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Four Republican candidates are vying to be Idaho's next governor, a race that's expected to be one of the state's most competitive in 2018.
According to voter participation records requested by The Associated Press, three of the candidates have a strong history of casting votes on Election Day.
The fourth voted, but not as often — and not in a primary until speculation about his own potential bid emerged.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little has participated in 29 elections since 1998. Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridien has cast a ballot in 24 elections since 2000. And U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has voted in 21 elections in the same timeframe.
"Many Idahoans have fought and died for the freedoms we hold dear, including the right and privilege to vote. (My wife) Becca and I take this sacred responsibility very seriously and make sure we teach our children the importance of expressing our patriotism by consistently participating in primary and general elections," Labrador said in a statement.
Little offered a popular ranch expression, saying if "you're not at the table, you're very likely to be on the menu."
"Idaho voters have kept our state a conservative beacon for the rest of the country, and I don't think you can be expected to lead Idaho if you aren't willing to participate at this most basic level," Little said.
Meanwhile, Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist has cast a ballot in 11 elections since 2000. His records, obtained from the Ada County elections office, showed Ahlquist participating only in presidential general elections from 2000 through 2008.
Ahlquist continued to vote in general elections in 2012 and 2014 and participated in smaller city and local elections in fall 2011 and summer 2014. His first recorded primary election was not until 2016 — around the time rumors began to swirl that he was considering a run for office.
The 2018 gubernatorial bid will be Ahlquist's first time seeking an elected position.
"As a doctor and a builder, Tommy has spent his entire adult life working to help the injured, heal the sick, strengthen Idaho's communities, and missed some elections in the process, which he regrets, but his commitment to his community has never wavered," said David Johnston, Ahlquist's campaign manager.
Election participation has been an issue in the past for first-time political candidates in Idaho.
In 2014, political newcomer Sherri Ybarra was criticized while running for state superintendent of public instruction for saying she occasionally missed an election. A review revealed she missed 15 of the previous 17 general elections since moving to Mountain Home in 1996. Ybarra won the election.
"It's easy to criticize the system, but it's much harder to get involved and try to find a solution," said Steve Ackerman, Fulcher's campaign manager. "Fulcher would say he's done the work, he's shown up on Election Day, and he's shown that he cares about the voter."
The top ticket race is expected to be one of Idaho's most competitive in 2018 with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter saying he will not seek re-election.
No competitive Democratic candidate have entered the race so far. Troy Minton, a homeless man from Boise, has filed as a Democrat but has no record of participating in elections, according to Ada County.
Independent candidates John Thomas Wiechec and Lisa Marie had no voting records. Records showed that independent Michael Richardson participated in 15 elections since 2006