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Eye On Boise

Guv candidates hitting the campaign trail early; my full Sun. column

Here's my full column from Sunday's Spokesman-Review:

By Betsy Z. Russell

A year out from the primary election in the 2018 race for governor of Idaho, the campaign has started heating up.

1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador, one of the hopefuls, has announced he’ll go on a three-day tour of the state to formally announce his candidacy, with stops Tuesday in Boise, Wednesday in Post Falls and Thursday in Idaho Falls.

Labrador’s Post Falls announcement will be 2 p.m. at the American Legion Hall.

Labrador also issued a news release last week announcing his first campaign team member, campaign treasurer Milford Terrell, and another announcing that Roger and Gayle Batt, of Wilder, will be his campaign co-chairs.

Meanwhile, GOP rival Tommy Ahlquist, who just completed a 97-town, 75-day tour of the state that included 296 meetings, launched a new TV ad last week. Ahlquist, a doctor and developer, is the first of the 2018 governor candidates to hit the airwaves statewide. He’s also released a video about what he learned on his tour.

And Lt. Gov. Brad Little announced his campaign coordinators, at least one in each of Idaho’s 44 counties, and more than one in 12 counties. Among the names on the list: Wayne Hurst and Denton Darrington in Cassia County; Craig Smith, Cathyanne Nonini and Dee Jameson in Kootenai County; Dan Dinning in Boundary County; Jim Martin and George Eskridge in Bonner County; Dale Lavigne in Shoshone County; and Ryan Kerby in Washington County.

All three are running for the GOP nomination for governor in 2018, as is former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who challenged current Gov. Butch Otter in the primary in 2014, taking 43.6 percent of the vote.

Others who have filed initial paperwork to run for the post in 2018 include Lisa Marie, who initially filed as an independent but has now switched to Republican; Democrat Troy Minton; and independents Michael Richardson and John Thomas Wiechec.

AdWatch: Ahlquist’s latest

Ahlquist’s newest TV ad, like his earlier ads, seeks to introduce him and his background as he runs for governor as a first-time candidate.

“I learned it from Grandpa Pettersson back on the farm to be a doer, not a talker, and to get things done,” Ahlquist said in the ad. “I’m Tommy Ahlquist. These are the lessons I’ve lived by. Serving tens of thousands of patients as an emergency room doctor all over Idaho. Starting several successful small businesses. And now, building community, creating thousands of jobs.” The ad concludes, “It’s about making our communities stronger, with a conservative blueprint to build an even better Idaho.”

The ad makes no factual claims other than describing Ahlquist’s background and aspirations, and it refrains from any criticism of his rivals.

Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said the ad continues Ahlquist’s message of being “a doer, not a talker.”

“And he has the resume to back that up, with his involvement as a doctor, a developer and a businessman,” Weatherby said. Ahlquist is “introducing himself to Idahoans, and pointing out his various accomplishments.”

The newest ad has started airing statewide to satellite TV subscribers, and likely will also air on broadcast TV in some markets; Ahlquist’s earlier ads ran on TV statewide, including cable and satellite in North Idaho, but not in the Spokane broadcast TV market.

97-city tour

Weatherby said Ahquist’s decision to go on a 75-day, 97-city tour of Idaho this early in the campaign is unprecedented, but likely well-advised. “He’s entering this race at a significant disadvantage,” Weatherby said. “He’s not well-known around the state, and his major competitors have run for and served in public office for a significant amount of time. Name identification is key to running a successful campaign. He needs to get his name out there and meet with people, as he’s done on this tour.”

On his tour, Ahlquist made a point in every town he hit of visiting schools and meeting with school superintendents and principals, teachers, parents and students; touring hospitals and talking with administrators, doctors and nurses; visiting businesses, farms and ranches, including at least one unannounced drop-in visit; meeting with mayors and city council members; and seeking out those “in the trenches.”

In a video about his tour, he says his main point was to listen. He talks about how important really listening to people was in his work as an emergency-room doctor. Now that he’s running for governor, he says, “So what’s next? You listen first. … After a few weeks you realize these stories are changing you.”

Ahlquist said he learned that locals are struggling with mandates, small businesses are struggling with taxes, and everyone’s struggling with health care costs. “There’s not a conservative plan for the things that make business possible, important things like roads and infrastructure,” he said.

At the end of his video, Ahlquist says, “So what’s the diagnosis? We need conservative leadership, new ideas and a fresh approach. We need a statewide vision that includes all of Idaho. … I need everyone who’s ready for a fresh approach to join me this year.”

Weatherby said Ahlquist’s tour appeared to be “very well-organized, to get a feeling for attitudes and problems in the various cities around the state.”

Ahlquist’s tour took him to the 97 most-populated incorporated cities in the state, all the way down to Oakley, population 790, and to all 44 Idaho counties.

But he’s not the only candidate who’s been out on the stump. Both Fulcher and Little launched their campaigns last year, and have been actively organizing and reaching out. Labrador’s kicking off his campaign splash in the coming week.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Weatherby said. “It’s always a question of how focused Idahoans will be on this race, as compared to all the goings-on and shenanigans at the federal level, but this is a contest that will have a lot of meaning.”

Living history project focuses on Idaho veterans monuments

Idaho’s Division of Veterans Services has launched a living history project aimed at identifying and displaying on a website all the monuments and memorials in the state honoring the military and veterans, along with the stories behind them, and is asking for people to help. “Communities throughout Idaho pay homage to the courageous men and women who laid down their lives for us,” Gov. Butch Otter said in a news release. “We want to celebrate those local tributes to patriotism and valor that help us never forget the great legacy of our heroes.”

The division is using, a free online site for sharing historical and contemporary photographs, and asking the public and veterans service organizations to collect and upload photos, history and stories about Idaho memorials. There’s an instructional guide online at the division’s website at; you can visit the collection online at to watch it take shape.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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