Kootenai County voters next month will choose between two men who’ve lost a combined 12 elections in 15 years.
And some residents are none too happy about it.
Ron Rankin and Chuck Sheroke are the candidates vying to replace Kootenai County Commissioner Bob Macdonald, whom Rankin defeated in May’s Republican primary. Macdonald this week kicked off a last-minute write-in campaign, but admits he’s a long shot for victory.
That leaves a choice of two political street brawlers with staunch-but-polar ideologies, razor-sharp tongues and a history of bitter confrontation in defense of their positions.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction around the county with this race,” said Commissioner Dick Panabaker, whose seat is not open this year. “Each has his own following, but they’re both extremes and that leaves the middle-of-the-road people concerned.”
But both men already wield varying degrees of political influence without ever having held office. And while each has made numerous foes over the years, both boast a battalion of doting supporters.
Former Commissioner Kent Helmer, defeated in 1994, said a victory by either man would bring needed frankness and debate to a county commission that currently lacks dissension.
“I don’t think it would be that bad to put either one of them in,” he said. “I think a little controversy in those meetings once in awhile will be good.”
The race also offers voters one of their clearest ideological choices of the year.
Rankin, 67, is a populist tax activist and author of the One Percent Initiative who claims elected officials typically work against their constituents.
Rankin points to the county’s hiring of a lobbyist to get bills passed in the Legislature, and the hiring of a former county commissioner to help restructure the government, as examples.
He, on the other hand, frequently takes on government in defense of residents who complain they’ve been mistreated or that their property assessments are too high.
If elected, Rankin said he would eliminate a perceived coziness between the current all-GOP commission and some area business interests, defend property rights with common sense land-use decisions, and make sure commissioners did business in public.
“Most elected people end up advocating positions of the office to the people instead of the other way around,” he said. “That’s not the way I operate. How many times have I stood alone against the world?”
He’s spent five years trying to pass his initiative, which would cap property taxes at 1 percent of taxable value after exemptions. It would eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue - just how much is open to debate - and transfer school funding off property taxes.
The one-time long-shot initiative has gained momentum in recent years - proof, Rankin says, that his own popularity has grown.
But his years of strident activism - alternatively bashing government, unions and education workers - has made him many political enemies.
“It’s a lot easier to sit in the back of the room and throw darts than sit at the table and help make decisions,” Helmer said.
Rankin is undaunted.
“I think most people see Ron Rankin as the one who can do the job,” he said.
Sheroke, 47, is a Democrat most known for legal battles against developers and over public access to area waterways. He’s also known for sniping at county commissioners who approved what he saw as questionable developments.
That has earned him some foes.
“He has always been antagonist with, we felt, lawsuits that were questionable,” Helmer said.
But Sheroke has earned support from neighbors who fight large developments and many residents concerned about the county’s environment. He also has done significant legal work on behalf of people in need of affordable housing.
He maintains this election should focus on public schools - an issue he has experience and interest in.
He was North Idaho’s sole public supporter in 1992 of impact fees - fees tacked on to developments to pay for roads and services - and wants to expand that to pay for schools.
“There’s an on-going assault on public schools,” he said. “I want to make school funding a priority.”
He said he would ask developers to voluntarily pay impact fees to help cover the cost of schools. He also would push to raise homeowners’ exemptions.
Both could require legislative action. But Sheroke maintains each could lead to property tax cuts.
Sheroke also said he would push to have farmers who burn grass voluntarily eliminate the practice or he would push to have it banned as a criminal trespass within three years.
“No one has ever opened the farmer’s books to show us that that would be the end of grass farming as we know it,” he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The position Kootenai County Commissioner Term: 2 years The other seat is four years, they rotate terms Salary: $40,789