Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Grilled by Economic Panel

Republican gubernatorial candidates Tommy Ahlquist and Brad Little fielded questions from a panel of Idaho economic development experts at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center on Thursday.The panel of economic development experts at the Regional Economic Development Corporation for East Idaho (REDI) 2018 Gubernatorial Economic Development Forum on Thursday, from left to right: Shawn Barigar, president of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce; Gynii Gilliam, president of the Coeur d'Alene Area Economic Development Corporation; Jan Rogers, CEO of REDI; and Ray Stark, Senior Vice President of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.Channel 8's Anchorwoman Karole Honas moderated the Regional Economic Development Corporation for East Idaho 2018 Gubernatorial Economic Development Forum on Thursday.The participants for the first half of the Regional Economic Development Corporation for East Idaho (REDI) 2018 Gubernatorial Economic Development Forum on Thursday, from left to right: Shawn Barigar, mayor of Twin Falls and president of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce; candidate Brad Little; Jan Rogers, CEO of REDI; Gynii Gilliam, president of the Coeur d'Alene Area Economic Development Corporation; candidate Tommy Ahlquist; Ray Stark, Senior Vice President of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
By: 
Catie Clark
Reporter

Idaho gubernatorial candidates visited Blackfoot on Thursday to participate in an economic development forum.
Republican candidates Tommy Ahlquist and Brad Little went first, followed by a second session that featured the Democratic candidates.
The Regional Economic Development Corporation for East Idaho (REDI) held the forum for candidates to field in-person questions from both a panel of Idaho economic experts and written questions from the audience on the subject of the state's economic development.
Panelists for the forum were Shawn Barigar, president of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce; Gynii Gilliam, president of the Coeur d'Alene Area Economic Development Corporation; Jan Rogers, CEO of REDI; and Ray Stark, Senior Vice President of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. The question-and-answer session from 1:30 to 3 p.m. was moderated by local news anchor Karole Honas of KIFI: Local News 8.
Before the forum started, people in the audience were interested in what the candidates would have to say, including the panelists themselves.
"I am looking forward to hearing what the candidates really have planned for Idaho's economic development instead of just listening to canned answers from politicians," said Shawn Barigar, who is both the mayor of Twin Falls and the president of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm really excited to be able to hear the sides from candidates of both parties," said Margaret Ganyo, CEO of United Way of Southeastern Idaho.
"Life as we know it is over because we're the fastest growing economy in the nation," said Kurt Hibbert, director of planning and zoning for the City of Blackfoot. "Everything is going to change and I want to know what these candidates have to say about that."

Candidate Statements
U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador did not attend because he was in Washington D.C. He sent a statement about what his economic policy would be as governor. He said he would cut taxes, trim regulations and get government out of the way of business. For more information, he invited people to visit his detailed statements on his website at www.raullabrador.com.
Brad Little introduced himself as an experienced Idaho public servant. His focus on economic development was for Idaho kids to have the education and jobs to stay in Idaho. And for Idahoans who had moved away to have the economic opportunities to move back and stay. He was focused on building up our education system and bringing high tech businesses into the state.
Tommy Ahlquist introduced himself as an ER doctor who became a businessman. His outlook on economic development was focused on technological job training, higher education, meeting the needs of the businesses already established in the state and stopping the waste involved in "feeding the health care beast."

Education
When asked about their plans for tying education to economic development, Ahlquist said that Idaho kids need to be connected to jobs. He used Arizona as an example of how to do things right in a state's education system. In Arizona, Ahlquist said their their aim is simply to have every degree awarded connected to a job and that if we used such a perspective here, Idaho education and Idaho business and jobs would be truly connected. He also cited examples of education programs in part of the state where programs were designed locally and on a grassroots basis to address local and regional needs. He suggested we could really use more of that and he would push such initiatives if elected.
Little's perspective was initially focused on the basics, that every Idaho child needs to be competent in reading and literacy by the end of third grade. He emphasized that we need that foundation to build upon. He also wanted to achieve standardization in advanced credits and in establishing a "common digital campus" throughout the state as the basis of Idaho's higher education future.

INL Small Modular Reactor Program
Ahlquist said the governor of Idaho needs to do everything possible to support the modular reactor program. He stated the opportunities that it brings to the state are "endless." He also said the "vision is clear" that focusing on the technological transfer aspects would be critical for Idaho's economy.
Little said that it was critical for the state to support the efforts of Congressman Mike Simpson in his support of the INL and its programs in the state. He also said that if a modular reactor had been built and ready to go, we could have loaded a couple on a truck, sent it to a port and shipped it to Puerto Rico to help them with their lack of electric power. He cited that as the power the INL gave to Idaho as an economic power and example of what Idaho could give back to the nation.

Road and Bridges
Each candidate was asked abut the 260 million that is needed every year just to maintain Idaho's road and bridges.
"This is the elephant in the room for all of us," Ahlquist said. "Why does it take ITD twice as much to lay down a road as one of my businesses?" Ahlquist questioned Idaho's funding practices and stated he would work to make the state government more efficient and like a business in cutting costs while still getting the job done.
Little said the state needs to allocate more money to take care of its roads and bridges and do it in such a way that we are not getting into more debt service, which has been the pattern recently.

Internet Broadband
Little pointed out that more than a third of rural Idaho does not have broadband internet access and the state needs to do all it can to facilitate the connection of every Idaho residence to the internet.
Ahlquist said that if we don't get broadband internet into every part of the state, Idaho's economy will be left behind in critical fields like telemedicine, high technology businesses and education. "We have got to take care of rural Idaho."

After the Forum

After the Republican candidates finished, Ganyo had this to say: "It was good to have this panel to pin them down on what they propose for Idaho. Kudos to REDI for putting this together."
"I am very happy to see this," said Paul Vitale of the Pocatello Board of Education. "I saw it in the paper so I drove up to listen and I'm glad I came."

Candidates were given two minutes in which to answer questions with an additional 30 seconds provided to rebut or add on to a response. City of Blackfoot economic development consultant Julie Ann Goodrich timed the answers.

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