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GOP rift surprises ex-Arizona sheriff

Lincoln Day speaker says he’s about hope and critics should be ashamed

A former Arizona sheriff whose speaking appearance today in North Idaho has created a rift among local Republicans called on Spokane County politicians Friday to make protecting the Constitution their No. 1 priority.

Richard Mack disputed claims that he’s a darling of the militia movement in his speech at the Spokane County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Mack, who frequently speaks at national tea party events and is an outspoken critic of gun control, said he’s never advocated violence against federal officials.

“My message across this country has been one of hope – that we can take our country back in a peaceful manner,” Mack told the packed crowd, which included many Spokane County GOP officials. “Where we take America back is county by county and sheriff by sheriff.”

Some of Mack’s stances contradict comments Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich made to the crowd at the Lincoln Center when praising Attorney General Rob McKenna for his fight against methamphetamine.

Knezovich said McKenna, who is running for governor and spoke at the event via the Internet service Skype, has done great work fighting drugs in Washington and mentioned his experiences at meth houses while a SWAT team member.

“Meth is a scourge, and that man helped clean it up in the state of Washington,” Knezovich said.

But Mack, the event’s keynote speaker, is an outspoken critic of the war on drugs. He told The Spokesman-Review before his speech Friday that he hates drugs “worse than anything, but the war on drugs has been a big failure, and we need to be honest enough to admit that.”

Mack also does not support banning gay marriage, though a booth at the event featured a petition for Washington’s proposed ban on gay marriage. Mack told The Spokesman-Review the government has no business defining marriage.

“If you make a law against homosexuality, does it stop it?” Mack said.

These contradictions created a rift about Mack’s speaking invitation among Republicans in Kootenai County, who voted 31 to 30 to rescind Mack’s invitation. The vote was ruled invalid because of forgery allegations regarding a ballot, and he’s now scheduled to appear at the GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner tonight in Coeur d’Alene as the keynote speaker.

Mack told The Spokesman-Review Friday that he was shocked by the controversy in North Idaho.

“Some people should really be ashamed by it, and it shouldn’t be me,” Mack said.

He disputed statements from some Idaho Republicans that the GOP has been infiltrated by extremists from the Libertarian and Constitution parties.

“It’s just the opposite – the Republican Party has been invaded by liberals, moderates and neo-cons,” Mack said.

Mack, who is running for U.S. Congress in Texas as a Republican, was elected as a Democrat as sheriff in Graham County, Ariz., but lost re-election. He said he’s appeared at many Republican events recently and will support whoever wins the Republican presidential nomination, though he’s endorsed Ron Paul.

Mack believes the biggest threat to freedom is not terrorism but government tyranny, and he repeated that claim in his speech Friday. He quoted President Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”


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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.