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Stevens County candidates debate issues, philosophies

Fri., July 18, 2014

Candidates for Stevens County elected office addressed the token issues in the overwhelmingly conservative area at a forum this week: gun rights, property rights and the alleged overreach of the federal government.

Missing was discussion of two of the candidates’ criminal past and two District Court judge hopefuls locked in a bitter campaign.

“You will not have a problem with the federal government if I’m your sheriff,” said candidate Ken Barker, drawing one of the few standing ovations from a crowd of about 40 who gathered in Colville on Wednesday night for a candidate forum hosted by the People’s Oversight Commission, a recently formed group advocating for “control over the instruments of government that we have created,” according to its charter. Visitors posed questions to county assessor candidates about the illegal immigration problem, among other ideological concerns.

Sheriff candidate Barker, a Republican, said if he defeated his opponents, incumbent Republican Kendle Allen and Steve Schroeder, he’d require all federal agents entering the county to register with his office.

Allen did not attend Wednesday’s session, citing previous obligations. Schroeder, a longtime farmer in the area who lists no party preference, said he was running because of dissatisfaction he’d heard from neighbors about service from the Sheriff’s Office.

“These people need to be protected,” Schroeder said.

In 1993, Schroeder was arrested at a friend’s trailer after he allegedly punched a sheriff’s deputy who was trying to serve him with insurance paperwork on his truck, he said. Schroeder said the deputy entered the trailer without a warrant and he was protecting himself during the scuffle. He bears a scar above his left eyebrow from the deputy’s flashlight.

“I’m not scared of anybody,” Schroeder said. A jury convicted him of third-degree assault, a felony, and he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to 90 days in jail, according to court records. Schroeder later filed a civil lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office that was dismissed by a Spokane judge. His civil rights, including the right to own a gun, have since been restored.

District Court race

Two candidates who did not address the crowd are vying for the county’s sole District Court judgeship.

Incumbent Gina Tveit faces Michael Clay, a former deputy prosecutor who now works in private practice. Tveit’s father hired a private investigator to look into claims Clay carried on romantic relationships with the relatives of clients while representing them. Clay vehemently denies the accusations.

“If those things happened, they would be grounds for someone to be disbarred,” Clay said.

Two of the women named in a report that has since been forwarded to the attorney general’s office for review told The Spokesman-Review that they had apprehensions about Clay running for office.

“He shouldn’t be judge,” said LeAnne Grimer, one of the women named in the report, who said she dated Clay for about a year after he represented her son in a burglary case as a public defender.

The second woman asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals.

Tveit said she filed a bar complaint against Clay after viewing her private investigator’s report. The Washington Bar Association does not comment on pending investigations, a spokeswoman for the agency said. Neither Tveit nor Clay have a history of discipline with the association, according to its records.

Clay has filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission alleging Tveit failed to disclose expenses for the private investigator in her campaign finance reports.

In the complaint to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, Clay accuses Tveit of launching a politically motivated investigation.

“Clearly the investigation and the bar complaints are motivated by Judge Tveit’s desire to run a smear campaign in order to not be defeated in the general election,” Clay wrote.

But Tveit said in an interview earlier this summer her father initiated the investigation, not her. She said the investigation was separate from her political activity, which is why she has not listed it as a campaign expense with the state.

Tveit filed the subsequent bar complaint because she felt it was her duty, she said.

“It’s your ethical obligation as a judge,” Tveit said. “You do have an ethical obligation to report unethical conduct.”

Tveit said her involvement in the investigation is finished.

To date, Tveit’s only listed campaign expense is a little more than $4,000 for yard signs, according to the Public Disclosure Commission’s records.

Clay said Tveit’s actions represent a pattern of abusing her power.

Ronnie Rae, now practicing law in Spokane, ran against Tveit in 2010. He dropped out of the race when rumors about his personal life began circulating.

People “defamed me quite intensively, accusing me of things I’d never done,” Rae said. He did not provide direct evidence that Tveit’s campaign was the source of the alleged rumors.

Tveit denied any wrongdoing in the campaign and disputed that Rae left the race. Rae received 30 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election, according to the county.

County coroner

Two of three Republican candidates on the ballot for Stevens County coroner debated the efficiency of the office Wednesday.

Lorrie Sampson, a registered nurse’s assistant with the state and board-registered forensic death investigator, said the office needs to develop a plan to handle potential disasters while local authorities wait for the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Challenger Connie LaRue, a registered nurse and licensed anesthesiologist, said the office needs more transparency and “new blood.”

The outgoing coroner, Patti Hancock, has endorsed Sampson.

Sampson made passing reference in her remarks to LaRue’s criminal history after LaRue said the county would be “moving backward” by electing Sampson.

LaRue, prompted by a reporter’s question after the forum, acknowledged she’s a convicted felon out of federal court in Louisiana. She said she served an 11-month prison sentence in 1997.

The IRS said LaRue failed to file tax returns in 1994 and 1995 and ordered her to pay fines and restitution of more than $22,000, according to court records. The state returned her civil rights, including the right to own a firearm, earlier this year.

“It’s behind me,” LaRue said Wednesday. “You just move on.”

Dave Baskin, a retired Stevens County sheriff’s detective, is the third candidate on the ballot for coroner. He did not attend Wednesday’s forum.


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