Voters gave victories Tuesday to two factions of conservatives endorsing candidates in solidly red North Idaho.
The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee endorsed 17 candidates who earned victories in the general election, including the mayor’s office and three seats on the Post Falls City Council. Meanwhile, 11 candidates backed by the Citizens to Elect Qualified & Experienced Candidates, a group formed in May that has criticized the central committee’s endorsement of local candidates along partisan lines, won their contests.
That included the retention of three Coeur d’Alene City Council members: Amy Evans, Woody McEvers and Kiki Miller, though Miller defended her seat by a margin of just 0.44%. The group also supported the election of Jim Hammond as the next mayor of the city following the departure of Steve Widmyer, who chose not to seek a third term.
Brad Corkill, chairman of the citizens group, declined comment on the results Wednesday morning, saying they were still analyzing vote totals.
In Post Falls, voters chose both City Council and school board candidates that expressed strong opposition to mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, as well as critical race theory, even though the district’s local superintendent released a statement in the run-up to the election saying that curriculum is not and would not be taught in Post Falls schools. Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill in April banning the teaching of critical race theory in Idaho schools.
New City Council members Josh Walker, Nathan Ziegler and Kenny Shove all received endorsements from the central committee, as well as school board members Guy McAninch and Logan Creighton.
Brent Regan, chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, wrote in an email Wednesday candidates the committee endorsed did “remarkably well” and said efforts to flip seats on the Coeur d’Alene City Council had come up short due to absentee ballots.
“Regarding the CdA elections, there are just too many organizations that are feeding at the public trough,” Regan said. “Between the hospital, the Realtors, the press, the Democrats and several pop-up PACS (one apparently named after the Aztec god CEQEC) there created an insurmountable absentee vote advantage that conservative voters could not overcome on election day, although we did come very, very close.”
The Citizens to Elect Qualified & Experienced Candidates include past members of the central committee, registered Republicans and identify themselves as “conservative in our approach.”’
One Hayden contest featured candidates promoted by each group. The citizens group endorsed incumbent City Councilman Dick Panabaker, while the central committee endorsed Nicole Barnett.
Both were defeated in a three-person race by Ed DePriest, a high school teacher and coach who ran on a platform pushing for measured growth in Hayden, which he said has seen an explosion of new building threatening North Idaho’s green space.
“I’ve been kind of pushing to amend the comprehensive plan, so we don’t end up being packed in, in an urbanized area, with people living, driving to work and going to school on top of each other,” DePriest said.
DePriest completed an interview for the central committee and then said he felt as though the group was already determined to endorse Barnett. He also said he felt as though the citizens group endorsed “entrenched” figures in the community that would unquestionably support building and development, leading him to pursue a grassroots campaign.
“I’m not a dummy,” said DePriest, who identified himself as a “Reagan Republican.” “I recognize in order to get elected, the idea is to get the most votes, and this is an extremely conservative area.”
He likened both groups to “machines” in local politics that had begun something of an endorsement arms race, with mixed results and his own election outside of both.
Jake Dawson, a Post Falls school board candidate endorsed by the group of centrist Republicans, won his contest against David J. Reilly, who’d been forced in the days leading up to the election to explain his past comments critical of Israel that had prompted claims of antisemitism. Reilly, and the Republican central committee, denied those claims. Dawson earned 53.4% of the vote in a contest that drew considerably more votes than the other two contests in the district.
Turnout in Kootenai County stood at 34% as of Tuesday, nearly doubling the 17.5% rate seen in the last municipal, fire and school board elections held in 2019.
None of the races fell within the 0.1% or five-vote cutoff that would trigger a recount at state expense under Idaho law. A candidate may request a recount at their own expense if the margin is higher than that.
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