BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s top politicians should face term limits and tougher disclosure laws, political newcomer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist announced Tuesday as part of his 10-point plan on ethics reforms.
The sweeping reform proposal is the latest push by Ahlquist to hone his image as a political outsider.
“When professional politicians spend too much time in office, they lose touch with the realities of what Idaho families and businesses face — and as a result — put the needs of special interests ahead of the needs of taxpayers,” Ahlquist said in a prepared statement.
Unlike his GOP opponents — U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Lt. Gov. Brad Little — Ahlquist has never held a political office. His ethics plan, with its emphasis on term limits, suggests he isn’t planning on staying long if elected.
Idaho is one of two states to have the Legislature repeal its term limit laws.
In 1992, Idaho voters approved a term limit law with the approval of nearly 60 percent of the electorate.
A decade later, Republican legislative leaders — convinced the public was being heavily influenced by campaigns funded with money from outside the state — passed a bill overturning the limits law. The governor vetoed that bill, but legislators pulled a rare move and overturned his action.
The issue has failed to gain traction inside the conservative Idaho Statehouse ever since, with term limit opponents arguing that such measures have faced constitutional challenges in the past and produce legislatures with inexperienced lawmakers who can be easily swayed by lobbyists.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who is not running for re-election, is currently in the final years of his third term. Little has served as his lieutenant governor each term.
Labrador is in his fourth term as a congressman, he has previously supported legislation putting a six term limit for U.S. House members and two term limits for U.S. Senate members.
The longest serving governor in Idaho was former Democratic Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, who served four, non-consecutive terms.
Another key element in Ahlquist’s plan is requiring elected officials to disclose sources of personal income for themselves and their spouse, including investments and property assets.
Idaho is currently just one of two states with no such requirement. Ahlquist will release his own economic interests as outlined in his plan in the next few weeks.
“This is the most basic and simple of transparency measures that helps avoid conflicts of interest and impropriety among elected officials,” Ahlquist’s plan states.
Ahlquist’s plan says he would fight to eliminate a pension perk that lets longtime lawmakers “spike” their benefits by taking a higher-paid state appointment for 42 months at the end of their careers. Lawmakers have long debated the merits of this perk, but have not taken any major steps to repeal it.
Ahlquist also says he wants public officials banned from immediately transitioning from the public to private sector.
The practice — known as a “revolving door” — has been criticized by government watchdog groups who argue lawmakers use their positions to leverage lucrative jobs in the private world. But under Ahlquist’s ethics plan, state legislators and state executives would have to wait two years before becoming lobbyists.
The ethics plan goes on to state that Ahlquist would create a searchable database of lobbyist gifts to elected officials, as well as requiring lobbyists to report to the state if they are working on a political campaign for an elected seat.
In addition, Ahlquist wants a ban on lawmakers collecting campaign contributions during the legislative session.
Ahlquist says more than half of the statehouses across the United States have already enforced some sort of fundraising prohibition during legislative sessions and that doing so would help avoid any impropriety.
Finally, Ahlquist’s plan would ban the paying of family members from campaign accounts. While the practice is not illegal, it is contentious.
Labrador peviously defended using his congressional campaign funds to pay his wife to keep the financial books, arguing that he trusts her more than anyone else. However, without an explanation, he took his wife off his campaign payroll in July.