GOP primary: Experience, knowledge make Little best prepared to be Idaho's governor

Lt. Gov. Brad Little pictured as the Senate prepares to adjourn in March 2017.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little pictured as the Senate prepares to adjourn in March 2017. kjones@idahostatesman.com

It’s tempting when searching for a new leader to overlook the familiar No. 2, to seek out an outsider, someone flashy, someone who will offer new blood.

But as we look at all the candidates in the Republican primary this spring, it’s become clear that the 17 years Lt. Gov. Brad Little has spent in public service make him the best prepared and best qualified candidate for Idaho governor.

Look at the alternatives. We have Congressman Raul Labrador, who went to Congress in 2011 and stepped onto the national stage, talking about immigration reform on CNN and, later, helping take down U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and shut down the government.

And we have Tommy Ahlquist, the doctor and developer who built the Portico on Eagle Road and ended “the curse” at 8th and Main by building the Zions Bank building in Downtown Boise. His project not only filled “the pit” and erased Boise’s embarrassing eyesore, it helped spark the renaissance that continues Downtown. Ahlquist followed that up with a feat nearly as impressive: getting a Downtown transit station built after it languished for years, even with $10 million in federal money behind it.

But candidate Ahlquist leaves us with too many questions about who he is and what his core beliefs are, as he talks not about how he learned that government and private industry can work together to transform our communities, but about cutting government and opposing Medicaid expansion to help the uninsured.

Labrador has not changed on the campaign trail: He’s still the anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-government conservative he’s always been. But consistency doesn’t translate into a vision for leading our big, diverse government as a chief executive, rather than a chief critic.

[REBUTTAL: Raul Labrador: Idaho is ready for a governor who will get government out of the way ]

[REBUTTAL: Tommy Ahlquist: You can vote for the same old politicians, or for my fresh approach, ideas]

[RELATED: Find out more about all the candidates at our online voter guide ]

[RELATED: Watch video of our interviews with the Republican candidates]

Even if Labrador was the anti-government crusader that 1st District voters wanted in Washington, D.C., we need a governor for Idaho today with a more generous and expansive view of the proper, but limited, role of government. Idaho needs a commitment to educating its children, finding affordable health care options for citizens of all incomes and creating new ways to address the highway, bridge and other needs of our state. Most recently, Labrador raised the prospect of supporting a legislative effort to stop Medicaid expansion if the voters approve it in November.

So with doubts about Ahlquist and Labrador piling up, the dependable, trustworthy, even-keeled Little looks all the better. As Labrador and Ahlquist have traded nasty barbs, as Ahlquist has tacked right for the GOP primary, Little has campaigned as himself: grounded and down to earth.

As the latest in a line of family ranchers, Little gets Idaho culture and values, its weaknesses and its potential. As a state senator, Little learned the nuances of working with legislators. As lieutenant governor, he understands building relationships with cities and counties. As Gov. Butch Otter's partner, Little has promoted economic development, and his mastery of the economy is second to none. He talks about agriculture and tech and medicine, but he also notes Idaho’s reliance on tourism and outdoor recreation and the value to rural Idaho.

As easy as it would be to pander to the base for the GOP primary and talk of never raising taxes, Little is honest enough to tell the truth that few want to speak: Idaho needs to find new revenues to repair and update its highways and bridges.

Little hasn’t just served time or paid his dues; he’s made that time count and it shows in his command of the issues. And as we discussed the candidates for governor, each of our board members could recall an event or a cause where Little showed up, not to sit on the stage or bask in the limelight, but simply to lend his support.

Little is not a dynamic campaigner. He won’t give the best State of the State addresses every January. But he has a history of service, a record of experience and a reputation of integrity that speaks eloquently on his behalf.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the Statesman editorial board. Note: Board member Kelly Parker did not participate in the endorsement process.