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Idaho Rep. Henderson endorses Avista official for his seat

Greg Gfeller, left, with Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, on Wednesday in Henderson's House office in Boise. (Betsy Russell)
Greg Gfeller, left, with Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, on Wednesday in Henderson's House office in Boise. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Retiring Rep. Frank Henderson of Post Falls has endorsed Avista Corp. official Greg Gfeller to succeed him in office, as Gfeller heads into a hotly contested three-way GOP primary race for the seat.

“I was looking for someone with a business background, because jobs are such a major issue in Kootenai County and we need to expand the economy and the tax base,” said Henderson, 91, who is chairman of the House Business Committee.

Gfeller – pronounced gee-feller – faces Jeff Ward, president of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans and a former aide to then-Washington Congressman George Nethercutt, and Don Cheatham, a retired former longtime Los Angeles police officer, in the District 3 GOP primary. No Democrat is running, so the Republican primary May 20 will determine the winner.

Ward said he wasn’t surprised by the endorsement. “I expect he’s looking for a more moderate candidate than I am,” he said.

Cheatham said, “I think he should’ve picked me.” He said, “I’m very principled – I’ve proven that. I’ve worked where I’ve investigated other police officers’ complaints against them.”

Gfeller is director of operations for Avista’s East Region, which stretches from Bonners Ferry in the north to Grangeville in the south in Idaho, and also includes Pullman and Clarkston, Wash. He’s been with Avista for more than 36 years, and is a former lineman; he holds a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Washington University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. Gfeller has lived in the Post Falls area since 1996.

“Collaboration is a big thing in our company – that’s how we get things done,” Gfeller said. “I think I can bring that to the table.”

Gfeller, 58, said, “I’m totally pro-growth, pro-jobs. I think government’s role is to provide infrastructure.” As for the campaign, he said, “I’m all in. I told Frank that I’m going to do whatever I need to do to be a candidate.”

Ward, 49, “I think the race is going to be pretty clear-cut. I think I’m the leading conservative candidate, and with lots of experience. … I have been out front on a number of issues, fighting Obamacare, promoting economic development by reducing taxes, and I’ve been kind of … doing the work. I think that distinguishes me from my opponents, who really haven’t been that involved in taking stances and leading on issues.”

Ward holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a master’s degree from Eastern Washington University in history. He’s worked in the textbook publishing business and in public relations, and now has a publishing consulting firm.

Cheatham, 68, worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after his quarter-century with the Los Angeles Police Department. He said he’s a “true conservative,” and believes in everything that’s in the Idaho Republican Party platform.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University-Los Angeles and has lived in Idaho since June of 2012.

“Politics has always interested me,” Cheatham said. “I thought there was more I could do for my country.”