One thing is for sure in the three-way race for the Kootenai County Commission in District 3 – a Republican will take office in January.
No Democrats or third-party candidates are in the race, meaning the winner of the May 15 Republican primary takes office without having to compete in the November general election. The same goes for the District 1 commission race, which has five Republicans vying for the top county office that oversees everything from the county budget and land-use decisions to indigent health care. Both positions represent the entire county.
This Republican domination isn’t rare in Kootenai County where conservatism is king and no Democrat holds elected county, state or federal office.
Commissioner Dan Green, 56, is running for re-election against Rathdrum Mayor Vic Holmes, 57, and self-described conservative citizen advocate Larry Spencer, who owns a one-man consulting and lobbying business.
This is the first time Spencer has run for elected office and instead is known for his behind-the-scenes efforts against anything he sees as a misuse of taxpayer dollars or an assault on private property rights. Yet he hasn’t dropped his evasive persona, refusing to tell his age, which public records show is 39, or the name of his company, DH Consulting. Spencer hung up on a reporter who asked about a 2008 property foreclosure and three run-ins with the law in the early 1990s that resulted in traffic-related charges for racing, obstructing an officer and careless driving.
For years, Spencer, who grew up in southern Bonner County near Cocolalla and graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School, refused to say where he actually lived. After divorcing, he now lives in Hayden.
Even though the three candidates are all Republicans they differ greatly on the issues.
Green, who spent seven years on the county planning commission and five as its chairman, said he is proud of his work on the comprehensive plan, the road map for land-use decisions in the county.
He now wants to finish the land use and development rules, which are outdated and contradictory, and is focused on what he calls balancing everyone’s private property rights.
“Not just the person who owns the property but the person who lives next door,” Green said adding that “property rights” have become a buzzword in the election.
Yet he said he believes residents need reasonable expectations for what could happen on their neighbor’s property.
Holmes also talks about property rights but in the perspective that he doesn’t want high density and commercial buildings in the county’s rural areas. Holmes grew up in the Spokane Valley and watched it transform from rural to miles of shopping centers.
“That’s not why people move into rural communities,” said Holmes, adding existing cities are better prepared with utilities such as water and that too many wells could cause problems in the future.
Spencer views property rights as the crux of the election and said that if Green and the current commission adopt the “extremely restrictive” draft of the land-use rules, it will essentially cause a moratorium on building in the county and shift the tax burden on to already built properties because the large number of undevelopable lots will lose their tax values. And if a landowner can develop, especially along the lakeshore or on a steep hillside, the proposed rules would increase the cost by thousands of dollars for unneeded engineering work and soil and water studies, he said.
He also thinks the county wasted at least $300,000 hiring a consultant to help with redrafting the land use rules.
Spencer opposes building any new county buildings, including a jail expansion or the recent discussion of a new justice building that would include a parking garage.
“Building more government and buildings is not a conservative position,” Spencer said.
Overall, he believes the county should stop running government like a business, which means trying to grow it and make a profit, he said.
Green, who owned a forest products business which he sold before being elected to the commission in 2010, does believe in running government as an efficient and cost-savings business. He said he and the commission have made great strides in the last year, eliminating 18 county jobs and saving $800,000 annually in addition to reducing costs in departments such as solid waste and indigent care.
Holmes, who owns Eagle Garage Door, said he is the only candidate with municipal experience and is running a town within budget, with happy employees and new projects such as parks and a new bridge.
He said he believes the county should stop hiring consultants and doing studies and put its energy into actually planning for the future. He wants the county to establish a capital improvements fund to pay for future buildings without having to ask voters to raise property taxes or borrow money. With that type of planning, he said the county could hire more sheriff’s deputies, relieve the jail overcrowding and improve employee morale.
Holmes won re-election to a four-year mayoral term in November and then a few months later decided to run for the county commission. He said he sees no problem switching offices so early in his second term as Rathdrum mayor. If he wins, Holmes would take county office in January and the Rathdrum City Council would appoint a new mayor.
Another main issue in the race is whether to restructure county government.
Green and the commission recently asked the prosecutor to draft a ballot measure for the November election asking voters if they want the commission to hire a county manager, becoming the first county in Idaho to do so.
The measure also would allow the commission to appoint the county assessor, clerk, coroner and treasurer. These officials are currently elected.
Both Holmes and Spencer oppose the restructuring, saying it takes away the voter’s ability of checks and balances by being able to elect county officials.