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Ron Rankin Gets Chance To See Politics On Inside Government Critic Doesn’t Plan On Changing Now

The dry spell is over.

After 10 unsuccessful election bids for five public positions spanning 35 years and two states, Ron Rankin - tax hound, government watchdog, populist pit bull - will hold political office for the first time.

The 67-year-old conservative crusader roundly defeated two opponents Tuesday in the race for a two-year term as Kootenai County commissioner.

Final vote tallies showed write-in Republican incumbent Bob Macdonald with 3,908 votes and Democratic attorney Chuck Sheroke with 14,568. Rankin ended with 19,707 - a solid 52 percent.

“I have a mandate,” an exhausted Rankin said Wednesday, “though I don’t know what for.”

As the consummate outsider prepares for a steady government paycheck, he already is anticipating the big question:

Will this surly critic of government change once he views the county from the other side?

Not a chance, Rankin said.

“You talk to anybody who’s been around this town for 30 years and they’ll tell you I don’t change. Philosophically, I can’t,” Rankin said. “I’ve been marching in the pro-life parade, for example, since Roe vs. Wade. I march a little slower, maybe.”

But Commission Chairman Dick Compton, who handily won his own re-election bid Tuesday, said Rankin likely will face surprises.

“If history repeats itself, when a person gets on the inside, they find things aren’t what they imagined,” he said. “We have a lot of dedicated, hard-working, competent people working in KC. They’re not leaning on the shovel.”

Critics and supporters maintain Rankin will stay true to his conviction that government can run cleaner, cheaper and more efficiently - even if it means butting heads with Compton, a fellow conservative.

“He’s not going to roll over and acquiesce on things he feels are wrong,” said longtime Rankin supporter Dee Lawless. “We won’t have deals passed quietly, as they have done in the past.”

Rankin supporter Arth Day said, “He won’t go down there and hide behind closed doors.”

Even Sheroke said he expects government to be more open.

It’s Rankin’s way.

“If everybody wanted the same opinion, why hire three people for the job?” Rankin said. “My style is openness and candor and with a lot of people in politics, those are things they don’t care for. It’s ‘inhibiting,’ they say.”

Rankin doesn’t plan to start slow.

In the next few days, he said, he’ll demand copies of all county correspondence. He also plans to look into the county planning department and the county’s legal office.

“It was astounding to me how many times they are asked for a legal opinion,” he said. “They’ve got stacks of them. Anytime somebody wants to move a chair in an office, they’ve got to ask for an opinion. It appeared to me that it could be frivolous.”

But for now, Rankin is recuperating. He spent Wednesday in bed, savoring victory and resting up from a 20-hour election day; He still was watching returns at the courthouse at 4 a.m. Wednesday.

“This is the first election I would have been disappointed in losing,” he said.

Previous efforts - dating back to an unsuccessful Orange County school board race when Eisenhower was president - predominantly have been for the platform, he said.

Since then, he’s lost a county commissioner race, five legislative bids, another shot at school board, a highway district commissioner race and 1994’s gubernatorial campaign, in which he spent a meager $15,000.

“I knew I couldn’t be governor for $15,000,” Rankin said. “But that money gave me 19 televised debates where I could tout my platform.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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