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Shawn Vestal: Winning candidate sees a turning tide in CdA elecions

In the wake of Spokane’s elections, there was an important development across the border you may have overlooked.

The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee – the hothouse for the right-wing extremism undermining schools and libraries that has created a deep schism among North Idaho conservatives – was trounced in the Coeur d’Alene city and school elections.

Its candidates went 0-for-5 with Lake City voters.

Much like the vote last August in the West Bonner County School District to recall board members who saddled the district with an unqualified ideologue as superintendent, it’s one of those modest signs – suggestive if not definitive – that makes you hope the fever has broken in Gem State politics.

Emphasis on hope. After all, KCRCC candidates did well elsewhere in county races, so it’s probably too early to declare victory for competence and reason. Still, if you’re dismayed by the malign influence of carpetbagger radicals in North Idaho, Tuesday night was a good one.

“I think it was an atom bomb,” said Dan Gookin, one of three incumbents who won re-election to the Coeur d’Alene City Council. “They wanted this and they thought they were going to win.”

The fact that the KCRCC got skunked is all the more significant considering two of the candidates who did the skunking: Gookin and Christie Wood, each of whom has been an outspoken critic of the KCRCC and the role its candidates have played in the accreditation fiasco at North Idaho College, among other things.

The two have clashed politically in the past but united to run for re-election as a kind of team. Longtime conservatives, they are moderate by the current yardstick.

Wood served on the NIC Board of Trustees, pushing back against the board’s outrageous incompetence, mismanagement and bullying that has put the college’s accreditation at risk. She resigned from the board in 2022.

Gookin is actually a member of the KCRCC, though he’s become a combative opponent of its efforts, posting tart-tongued commentary on YouTube. The KCRCC has sued him for defamation; he calls the suit an election stunt.

Among the chief reasons for his break with the group has been its refusal to turn away from some bigoted newcomers to North Idaho who have insinuated themselves into local politics – Dave Reilly, an anti-Semite who was involved with the notorious Unite the Right neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Vincent James Foxx, a white nationalist instigator and Holocaust denier who was welcomed as a speaker at a North Idaho GOP event just last year.

The two were instrumental in whipping up the online frenzy over Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park event in 2022, helping to attract a U-Haul full of Patriot Front members who showed up intending to riot at the event.

The KCRCC’s “refusal to condemn white supremacy and those who associate with known white supremacists and racists is causing them a lot of internal strife,” Gookin said.

So for the moderates to win, and win big, is significant. It’s not just that the KCRCC slate lost; it’s that the actively anti-KCRCC candidates won.

A third council incumbent who won on Tuesday, Dan English, is a former county clerk who used to describe himself as “the last Democrat in Kootenai County.” More important than that, however, is the fact that he has a long record of public service and community connection.

Meanwhile, two candidates for the Coeur d’Alene School Board – newcomer Jimmy McAndrew and incumbent Heather Tenbrink – won victories over committee-picked candidates.

Does that mean the tide of political extremism is receding in Kootenai County? That a more mainstream Republicanism, one with a faith in governing for the public good, one that rejects racism, one that isn’t aiming to destroy schools and libraries, is returning?

That would go way past what’s visible in these tea leaves. The KCRCC slate did well in other municipal races in the county, after all. Just last May, Kootenai County voters supported a slate of far-right candidates – led by Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin – who were too extreme for the rest of Idaho’s voters.

And there is another important feature of most of Tuesday’s winning candidates: they are incumbents with long records of service, well-known over many years, as opposed to newcomers who just rolled in with the proceeds from their California home sale, ranting about socialism, stolen elections and the tyranny of mask mandates.

Also, the KCRCC has endorsed candidates who didn’t win in the past. Recall that Reilly won the organization’s endorsement for a Post Falls School Board seat in 2021 and kept it even after his record of public anti-Semitism came to light – but it didn’t get him a win.

Still, Gookin believes the victories are a milestone in the political battle among conservatives in North Idaho. Four years ago, the KCRCC did not endorse candidates in the nonpartisan city races; since then, it has steadily politicized everything in sight, from the college to the libraries to every city hall.

A group representing the old-fashioned, moderate GOP, the North Idaho Republicans, has formed to represent those who’ve been left behind by the hard-right lurch, and it endorsed the winning candidates in this week’s vote.

Gookin thinks it could be a signal that the tide is turning.

“It’s my hope that this election is the tipping point,” he said.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or at

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