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News >  K-12 education

Post Falls School Board race pits controversial candidate, wings of local GOP against each other

David J. Reilly, left, faces Jake Dawson for the Zone 5 seat on the Post Falls school board. Dawson won with 53.4% of the vote in Tuesday's election. 
David J. Reilly, left, faces Jake Dawson for the Zone 5 seat on the Post Falls school board. Dawson won with 53.4% of the vote in Tuesday's election. 

The controversial candidacy of a Post Falls School Board hopeful whose views have been denounced as anti-Semitic has once again revealed the divisions among Republicans in North Idaho.

David J. Reilly, a former radio host who moved to Post Falls permanently a year ago, has the endorsement of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. His opponent, Jake Dawson, is a lifelong Post Falls resident and a building maintenance engineer who’s earned the endorsement of the Citizens to Elect Qualified & Experienced Candidates, a political action committee formed in April that includes several elected Republicans and GOP party officials.

Both groups say their endorsements are based on the qualifications of the candidates. But Reilly’s past comments on social media have drawn international media scrutiny and condemnations from pro-Israel groups about statements made before he entered the race.

Reilly, reached by phone this week, declined an interview, citing a column published last week in The Spokesman-Review that incorrectly quoted one of his tweets. Dawson’s campaign responded to inquiries through Facebook on Friday.

Articles in the Daily Beast and elsewhere have highlighted Reilly’s past associations and employment by groups that have spoken or published content espousing anti-Semitic views. Reilly’s Twitter account, the source of many statements included in those articles, has been active since at least 2019, according to archived versions of the social media website, though all posts before Aug. 27 appear to have been deleted from his publicly available page.

Some of those posts also illustrate fissures within the Republican Party.

Prior posts show Reilly’s involvement and defense of those supporting the America First Political Action Conference, which was pitched as an alternative to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

AFPAC was founded by Nick Fuentes, a former co-host of a podcast with James Allsup, the former Washington State University student who was ejected from the Whitman County Republican Party and whose appearance at a Spokane County Republican Party gathering prompted the resignation of the party’s chair. Both Fuentes and Allsup have been banned from social media platforms for views espousing white nationalism.

Sebastian Gorka, who served as President Donald Trump’s deputy assistant and who has also been banned from YouTube for promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, criticized Alex Jones’ Infowars and Fuentes and AFPAC attendees in a February 2020 tweet, specifically calling out their anti-Semitic views.

“Guys you need to read tweets more closely. For the record: Free Speech is Number One for a reason,” Gorka wrote on Feb 29, 2020. “But @infowars and (station host Owen Shroyer) are conspiracy theory kooks who undermine MAGA. And people like (Fuentes) & anyone else who denies the Holocaust are NOT Conservatives.”

“Shut the (expletive) up you fat, lying piece of Zionist trash,” Reilly tweeted in response, using the term identifying those in support of a protected Jewish nation in Israel.

In his campaign literature and interviews, Reilly says it is a desire to promote “America First & Christian values” that has driven him to run for the school board seat.

“I’d like to help the Post Falls School District become an educational institution that I’d be proud to send my own daughter to,” Reilly wrote in response to a question from the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

Brent Regan, chairman of the county’s Republican central committee, defended the group’s endorsement in a phone call earlier this month, saying he didn’t believe the anti-Semitic charges against Reilly.

“I was aware of some of it,” Regan said of the posts that have been highlighted by media outlets and Reilly’s opponents. He said he could not speak to what other members saw before their endorsement decisions, but in conversation with Reilly, he doesn’t believe the charges against him are accurate.

“I believe that that is wrong,” Regan said of the anti-Semitism charges. “I believe that he is a man of sincere faith.”

The Citizens to Elect Qualified & Experienced Candidates is led by Brad Corkill, a registered Republican who previously served as an Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner and was chair of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee in the mid-2000s. He said the decision to endorse Dawson was inspired largely by experience.

“Mr. Reilly has lived here for a year, and he doesn’t have kids in public school,” Corkill said. “That’s enough reason right there.”

Dawson emphasizes his ties to the community in his campaign literature, including graduating from Post Falls High School.

The candidates appear aligned on the controversial issues that have been facing North Idaho school boards.

Dawson said through Facebook Messenger that he opposes mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, continuing “I believe those are personal health decisions to be made by a child’s parent or guardian.” He also opposes the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms, though Superintendent Dena Naccarato recently released a statement saying such a theory was not being taught in the district and would not in the future.

Reilly, meanwhile, lists preventing critical race theory instruction as among his campaign’s values, as well as preventing mass and vaccine mandates that he compares to “child abuse.”

In a video recently posted to his social media, Reilly said he was being “attacked by international left-wing media outlets and Democratic institutions, like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League).”

“This is much more than just a political battle,” Reilly tells the cheering crowd. “This is a spiritual war, and guess what? God is on our side.”

Regan said he was puzzled why there has been so much scrutiny of committee-backed candidates recently, noting that it’s only been in the past several months that letters to the editor and outside media attention has looked at their chosen hopefuls.

“The national kerfuffle over this, it is what it is,” he said. “Our concern is, will this guy do a good job?”

Corkill said that when he was chairing the central committee, they didn’t endorse for nonpartisan races, and he believed doing so for races such as sewer, highway and school boards didn’t make sense.

“You don’t go into those positions with a political agenda, you go into those positions to fill a job,” he said.

Dawson said he preferred the focus on the race to be the district’s operations.

“My focus is not on my opponent but in the success of our school district and our community,” his campaign wrote. “I do not believe in politicizing a nonpartisan school board race.”

Reilly has raised $3,036 in support of his campaign, according to the most recent Idaho Secretary of State filings. That includes a $100 donation from Regan. Dawson has reported $1,624 in contributions, including a $100 donation from former Post Falls Chamber of Commerce President Pam Houser.

Election Day in Idaho is Nov. 2. Polling places will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Early voting will be available through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kootenai County Elections Department, 1808 N. Third St. in Coeur d’Alene.

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