Idaho is a state that historically has elected governors and senators from the pool of veteran politicians - mostly men who have served in previous public offices. There’s a sense that this pool has been vetted already and passed muster by virtue of prior election.
Of the ten men who served as governors during the last 70 years (The modern era beginning in 1946 up to the present), only two had not had previous service in the Idaho Legislature. Those two, Dirk Kempthorne and Robert Smylie, had been elected to other public offices, however: Kempthorne had been mayor of Boise and a United States senator; and, Smylie had been elected attorney general.
The times they are a’changing, though, and it could be a matter of time until Idahoans go for a no previous public service, non-politician as governor. After all, the nation has elected its first non-previous office-holder, non-Army general to the presidency.
A recent review of the nation’s governors and those running in 2018 by Larry Sabato, the reigning guru of the nation’s political pundits (He heads up the University of Virginia’s Public Policy Institute), was a possible peek into the future. To the surprise of traditionalists the phenomena of starting at the top, with money, especially one’s own, coupled with an ability to talk intelligently about the issues while proclaiming yourself to be an outsider, or a business man, or an anti-government, anti-regulation agitator appears to be a seductive siren song to voters.
Sabato’s survey revealed 13 of the nation’s 50 states are already being governed by folks with no previous experience in public office.
Heretofore it was Idaho’s Democratic party that was offering up aspirants for governor with no previous experience: A. J. Balukoff in 2014, Keith Allred in 2010, Jerry Brady in 2006 and 2002. All, of course, lost.
Now, however, Idaho’s Republicans may offer up as their 2018 gubernatorial nominee an individual with no previous elective office experience. Republican circles are abuzz with the news that Tom Ahlquist, a wealthy M.D. and the local face of Salt Lake City’s Gardner Corporation, the leading developer of high rise office buildings in downtown Boise, is telling friends and partners he will be a candidate.
He also is reportedly ready to spend several million dollars. He is a member of the LDS Church in good standing and there is speculation Ahlquist will win the support of eastern Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the chairman and CEO of Melaleuca Corporation.
If such an alliance is established it will more than compensate for the fact that Ahlquist has virtually no history of working with the State party.
Primaries with more than three entries are historically difficult to predict.
With Representative Raul Labrador telling his friends and supporters he is headed home to run for governor, Lt. Governor Brad Little has to be smiling. In theory, former state Senator Russ Fulcher and Labrador will split the Tea Party vote, Ahlquist might win the southeast’s heavily LDS counties, but Little will win seven of the ten largest voting counties.
Little though, is going to have to win it; he is not going to inherit the office. The likelihood of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter receiving an appointment in the Trump Administration is slim and none.
Otter is viewed as a johnny-come-lately by Trump supporters in Idaho. It is no coincidence he was passed over in the contests for Interior, Agriculture and International Trade. His ego would not let him accept a lesser position.
Idaho, according to a veteran Republican advisor, does not share national sentiment regarding right direction/wrong direction, which he believes works in Brad Little’s favor. He points out that question begins almost all polls and Idahoans tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction, but Idaho is headed in the right diretion.
Outsiders like Ahlquist do better when people believe their state is headed in the wrong direction. When people are satisfied with the way things are a non-previously elected candidate has a much tougher time.
Reading between the lines he is saying put your money on the “steady eddie” in the group, Brad Little, and the others, in particular Tom Ahlquist, no matter how much he may spend, would be a losing wager.
Labrador’s apparent decision to come home will set off a stampede of candidates. The early favorite has to be former Lt. Governor and Attorney General David Leroy. Still sharp, charming, well conditioned and vigorous, he has better name id and a cadre of both new and veteran supporters who he has kept in touch with while traveling the district to give his speech on President Lincoln’s impact on Idaho.
Other aspirants are thought to be former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and State Representatives Brent Crane, Luke Malek and Brandon Hixson.
Note: Corrected to remove reference to Robert Huntley in list of candidates without previous government experience. He served in the legislature and was elected to the Supreme Court before running for governor.