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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Republican voters in Kootenai County have many considerations on Tuesday’s ballot

Brett Surplus, left, is challenging incumbent Kootenai County Commissioner Leslie Duncan in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Idaho.
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Kootenai County Republican voters have quite a few options on Tuesday’s primary ballot for seats in Kootenai County and the state Legislature.

Four Republicans have filed for the Kootenai County Commissioner District 1 seat being vacated by Bill Brooks, who did not file for re-election. Voters can chose from pilot Dale Gibboney, pastor John Padula, veteran and retired nurse Bat Masterson and Marc Eberlein, owner of Eberlein Fine Cabinetry.

Several of the candidates say they were prompted to run because of concerns about the county budget and spending priorities. Gibboney, a former Los Angeles Police Department and Time Warner pilot, said in recent years spending on some services have been cut, but it is wasteful spending that should be cut instead. Low pay at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office caused many deputies to leave for better paying jobs. “They’re just now starting to recover five years later,” he said.

Masterson said he doesn’t believe the current commissioners are accessible enough to the public and often don’t inform the public about what they’re doing. “I don’t like the way the current commissioners are spending money,” he said.

Eberlein, who previously served a term on the commission, said the county has “runaway budget spending.”

“The last budget I worked on was $91.6 million,” he said. “Today, six years later, its $141.1 million.”

Despite the budget going up an average of 11% a year, key services such as 911 dispatch and the Sheriff’s Office have been hit hard by spending cuts. That leads to the question of where the money has been going, Eberlein said. “Inquiring minds want to know,” he said. “There’s been a bunch of building. Was it essential? I really don’t know.”

Eberlein, who has been endorsed by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, said his experience makes him a good fit for the job. “I don’t need any training wheels because I’ve spent four years there,” he said. “I have the wherewithal and knowledge to get this back on track.”

Gibboney said he believes “out of control” growth and immigration are the key issues facing the county.

“I think it will become a problem here with illegals crossing the border and being shipped all over the country,” he said of the immigration issue.

He believes his ideas help set him apart from the other candidates.

“I’ve come up with some possible solutions,” he said. “The other candidates, as far as I can see, don’t have any solutions.”

Masterson said he’s concerned about an idea floating around to either sell or move the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, which he believes would be a big mistake. Building new fairgrounds would cost millions of dollars, Masterson said. “It’s one of the only self -sustaining departments in Coeur d’Alene,” he said.

He said he’s heard that commission chair Leslie Duncan, who is running for re-election, wants to sell the fairgrounds. Duncan said there is no such plan.

“A constituent came to me with a concept that needed to be looked into and vetted,” she said. “The vetting process has stalled and there is nothing to bring forward to the public at this time.”

Masterson, who holds degrees in nursing and health science education, said he believes his background will help him be a good commissioner. During his career he was director of nursing services at North Idaho Advanced Care Hospital.

“I was raised in North Idaho,” he said. “I know the county and I know what the people here want to have.”

Padula, a pastor for the past 12 years, has been open about his past. He was kicked out of school in the seventh grade for selling drugs and never went back, spending the next 17 years addicted to drugs and doing six years in prison. After enrolling in a drug treatment program, he found God and became a pastor. He’s worked as an outreach pastor at Altar Church and director of Set Apart Discipleship.

Padula said he decided to run for the seat because he was concerned about decisions being made by the current commissioners to expand government and, at the time, he didn’t know if anyone else would be running for the vacant seat. He said he believes the community needs a public servant in the position. “I just know people are sick of what’s happening,” he said.

While growth is an issue, Padula said he’s also concerned about the divisiveness in politics. “The rest of our nation is too polarized and divided,” he said. “I think we’re ramping up to do that ourselves and it will ruin Kootenai County. We should be able to disagree on policies and still sit at the same table.”

His website also features prominently an endorsement from former Graham County (Arizona) Sheriff Richard Mack. Mack became known for his political activism and founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which advocates the claim that a sheriff has the power to refuse to enforce federal laws and can determine if a law is constitutional or not. Mack also served on the board of directors of the Oath Keepers, a militia group.

Padula said he believes that Mack is well-liked in the county and that’s why his site features Mack’s endorsement. “He’s been a good friend,” he said.

Mack’s involvement in the Oath Keepers was concerning, Padula said, but he was encouraged that Mack resigned from the organization when it began to get more extreme.

Padula has raised the most campaign money among the candidates running for commissioner, gathering nearly $69,000 and spending a large portion of it on advertising. Gibboney has raised just over $12,500, but loaned his campaign $60,000 of his own money. Eberlein has raised just over $11,500 and loaned his campaign an additional $10,000. Masterson has raised just over $11,000.

County Commissioner District 3

Leslie Duncan, who has been chair of the commission since October 2022, said she is running again because both citizens and county employees urged her to “continue the good work being done at the county.”

“There’s more work I can do in the next term to protect the rights of citizens and plan for the future of county operations,” she said.

She said she’s worked hard to serve citizens with humility and integrity and believes that the “misinformation continually being spread for political reasons” is one of the biggest problems in the county. “It is difficult to work together toward solutions when agendas get in the way of service,” she said.

Duncan has been endorsed by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

Duncan is being challenged by Brett Surplus, a real estate agent and former law enforcement officer. He said he’s challenging Duncan because he’s tired of seeing the same cans being kicked down the road.

“I’m born and raised here,” he said. “I just couldn’t vote for the incumbent after seeing so many mistakes.”

He said the new Justice Building, initially budgeted at $22 million, is now up to $34 million and the cost overruns are still climbing. The county also purchased the Kootenai Electric building without doing an inspection, only to find out that it needs more than $1 million in repairs, Surplus said.

The 911 dispatch office is down to nine employees after many quit to take better paying jobs. The wages were finally raised and new hires have been made, but the county is paying $37,000 a month for two temporary mobile dispatchers for three months to fill the gap while the new hires are trained, Surplus said. The department needs 17 dispatchers to be fully staffed, he said.

“It should never have gotten to that point,” he said.

His goal in running is to give voters an option, Surplus said.

“Voters are either ready for change or willing to go down the same path for the next four years,” he said.

Surplus has raised just of $4,200 and has spent almost all of it. Duncan has raised $21,500 but spent almost $24,000, dipping into funds left over from her previous campaign.

Kootenai County Sheriff

Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris, who took office in 2021, said he’s running for re-election because his work to reform the culture of the Sheriff’s Office isn’t complete. He said he’s been focusing on training and empowering his deputies.

The Sheriff’s Office has been hampered by low deputy pay in recent years, which led many deputies to leave for other law enforcement agencies in the region that pay more. Instead of making $22,000 less than a Coeur d’Alene police officer, deputies now make just 3% less, Norris said.

“We’ve made some significant strides in our salaries and benefits,” he said. “We are making every effort to change the culture in the county.”

Norris points to other improvements in the community. Crime is down 16% in the areas patrolled by deputies and civil liability claims have dropped from $320,000 a year to $30,000 a year, Norris said. He said he’s also made it a point to host numerous town hall meetings as well as occasional coffee and breakfast gatherings.

“I’ve engaged this community like no one else has,” he said. “I’m running on my record. I did exactly what I told the residents of Kootenai County I was going to do.”

Mike Bauer, a 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, previously ran against Norris in 2020 and lost. Despite the contentious nature of that race, Bauer is running again. He’s raised no money, however, in comparison to the $94,000 Norris has amassed and has participated in only a few campaign events. He said he fully expects to lose again, but wants to gauge how many people are opposed to Norris. His goal is to give Republicans a choice in the primary, he said.

“What I am is a barometer in this election,” he said. “I expect to lose on Tuesday.”

Bauer said he would like the position of sheriff to be nonpartisan. “We’re in a civil war between the KCRCC and the North Idaho Republicans,” he said. “I’m not endorsed by either.”

The KCRCC has endorsed Norris.

The North Idaho Republicans, who say they are dedicated to “conservative Republican values” and that the KCRCC is too extreme, have not made endorsements in the commissioner or sheriff campaigns.

Idaho Legislature District 4

Elaine Price, a small business owner, is running for re-election for Idaho House of Representatives seat 4B and being challenged by David Raglin. First elected in 2022, her campaign web site states that her vision includes everything “from protecting our freedoms and enhancing voter integrity to fostering economic growth and opportunity.”

District 4 encompasses most of the city of Coeur d’Alene.

According to the Idaho GOP web site, Price’s top three issues includes closing the loophole in the emergency declaration that allowed its extension beyond 60 days. Her second issue is protecting children from “grooming and sexualization” by “holding schools and libraries accountable for content set before our minor children.”

She is also advocating for repealing the grocery tax.

She has raised just over $16,100 and loaned her campaign $20,000. Her top donors, giving $1,000 each, including Avista Utilities, Idaho Chooses Life, Idaho Families PAC, Idaho Freedom Caucus and Brent Regan, head of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

Her challenger, Dave Raglin, previously owned a logistics company and headed construction projects for BNSF Railway. His campaign website lists his priorities as housing, education funding and community, writing that he’s concerned about the national political scene.

“We need to find common ground in our community with one another and foster the history and greatness that makes all of Idaho the self-reliant and persevering state that it is,” he wrote.

Raglin has raised $500 and loaned his campaign $2,000. His donors are the Idaho Logger PAC and Thomas Laurie of CdA, who gave $250 each.

Idaho Legislature District 5

In District 5, state Sen. Carl Bjerke is seeking re-election against challenger Cheri Zeo.

Bjerke, a former respiratory therapist who then worked for 32 years in fire departments in California, retired as the deputy chief of operations of the Santa Monica Fire Department. He is completing his first term in the state senate.

District 5 includes most of Post Falls and southwestern Kootenai County.

Bjerke, who is endorsed by the KCRCC, states on his campaign website that he’s running again because he wants to do what he can to better the lives of those around him.

“My motivation comes from God, who has led me in this direction as well as my strong desire to fight for the citizens of Idaho, an ultimately, this country,” he states.

His site asks people to join him “in the fight to protect Idaho sovereignty.”

Bjerke, who sits on the health and welfare committee and is vice chair of the finance committee, sponsored several bills in the recent legislative session, including several related to health. One bill, which was signed into law by the governor, prohibits the use of public funds for gender transition procedures.

He has raised over $15,000 in campaign donations. His top donors, giving $1,000 each, include Avista Utilities, Idaho Chooses Life and the Preserve Idaho Values PAC.

Zeo, a family physician, is also a professor of human anatomy and physiology at North Idaho College. Her campaign website states a desire to use her knowledge and skills to make a difference for the people of North Idaho. She lists her top three priorities as property tax reduction, the housing crisis and funding for schools.

“Idaho schools have been underfunded for way too long,” she wrote. “We need to fix this and create a more equitable system.”

Zao has raised nearly $2,300 and loaned her campaign an additional $3,000.