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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Republican primary races could shake up deadlocked leadership in Bonner County

After a year-and-a-half of friction and divided government in Bonner County, those dynamics could change with this election cycle as challengers contend for sheriff and two commissioner seats in the Idaho Republican primary Tuesday.

County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw is giving up his position to run against longtime Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, while commission Chairman Luke Omodt faces two challengers for his seat. Three others are running for Bradshaw’s open seat.

Because Bonner County is safely conservative, the primary will have a heavy advantage in the general election in November.


While both are firm conservatives, Bradshaw and Wheeler have clashed throughout their time in office together.

Well before Bradshaw announced his bid, Wheeler called on voters to replace Omodt and Bradshaw for their efforts to develop an RV park on a parcel of land where he believes the county should build a new jail, which he says is badly needed.

“He wants that justice facility for a legacy,” Bradshaw said.

First elected in 2008, Wheeler is running for what would be his fifth term. Although he did not respond to interview requests for this article, he said in speeches last year he wants to make retention of the land behind the current jail the central issue in this election.

Wheeler said that land is the only viable location to build a new justice facility, since it must be located in Sandpoint city limits where there is little affordable property. He said previous county commissioners designated that land for that purpose.

Bradshaw said the land is not the sheriff’s property; it is the county’s property, and it is up to the current commissioners to decide what to do with it. The only way to pay for a new jail would be through a massive levy, which he doubts taxpayers would approve.

Bradshaw, who is lead pastor of Cocolalla Cowboy Church, was elected a county commissioner in 2018. He lost a bid for governor in the 2022 Republican primary, with less than 2% of the vote.

He had planned to retire from public service once a “good candidate,” Brian Riley, entered the race for his commissioner seat, but he decided to run for sheriff when no one else challenged Wheeler.

“I think we need a new sheriff,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw disagrees with how Wheeler has managed the office’s budget and resources and criticized what he calls Wheeler’s lack of accessibility.

Bradshaw said that while the county’s population and the sheriff’s staff have increased over the years, there are not enough deputies on patrol, which has led to slow response times and too much reliance on Sandpoint police for assistance.

“I just want our county to be safe and have a functioning department,” Bradshaw said. “The only way you can do that is have more deputies on the streets.”

Bradshaw complained that Wheeler refused to assist in trespassing two men from county business meetings earlier this year. Omodt and Bradshaw said the men were disruptive and making threats.

Commissioner Asia Williams, who has been a consistent opponent of the other two commissioners, has had a protection order against Bradshaw since last year when a county employee claimed they heard Bradshaw make threatening statements about her.

Bradshaw said that he never threatened Williams and that the order is set to expire in September.

The Bonner County Republican Central Committee endorsed Wheeler for sheriff. The committee passed a no-confidence resolution against Bradshaw and Omodt last May over the land issue as well as for their decorum and restriction of public input. But the committee stopped short of censuring them last September.

Bradshaw said the party has “taken a turn” over the last few years.

“I quit going,” Bradshaw said. He disagreed with the party making endorsements in primary races.

“You have no business endorsing anybody in the primary,” Bradshaw said. “Everyone has a right to run. They are saying voters aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions.”

Omodt’s seat, District 3

Luke Omodt, the chair of the county commissioners, was elected for a partial two-year term in 2022. An Army veteran and former American government teacher at Bonners Ferry High School, Omodt said he is running again because he wants to preserve Bonner County’s high quality of life. He said it is a difficult time right now, adding that the job is worth doing.

Besides constant strife with Commissioner Williams who challenges him on rules of order, Omodt has been criticized for restricting public comment in various ways.

Omodt said business meetings have been riddled with continuous bad faith disruptions that interfere with the board conducting its business. Most of the people who complain they are not being heard do not comment on anything to do with county business.

“How am I supposed to address someone’s anger outside of my authority?” Omodt said, answering his own question that he would continue to listen to people who are frustrated, but he would not expand government beyond his statutory authority.

“I don’t believe in cradle-to-grave government,” Omodt said.

He said his priority is to finish the county’s comprehensive plan and that he has been fiscally responsible.

“The work of the county is getting done,” Omodt said.

Running against him is Dimitry Borisov, chief of Clark Fork Valley Ambulance service.

Borisov started attending commissioner meetings regularly after he was elected a Republican precinct committeeman two years ago and said he was disheartened to see the commissioners uninterested in listening to the public. It reminded him of growing up in the Soviet Union.

“The first thing that goes is freedom of speech,” Borisov said. “On the local level, it is a dangerous precedent.”

Borisov immigrated from Siberia to Bonner County 25 years ago.

His priority is to restore trust and the image of Bonner County. It is OK for commissioner meetings to run six hours, if necessary, he said, to make sure everyone is heard.

The Bonner County Republican Central Committee endorsed Ron Korn for the race. He came in second place to Omodt for the seat in the crowded 2022 Republican primary.

Korn, who did not respond to requests for comment, is the longtime commander of Bonner County Sheriff Search and Rescue Inc. Despite the name, the nonprofit organization is not part of the sheriff’s office, which has its own search and rescue department. The two groups split over 20 years ago.

Korn is also the founder of Seven Bravo Militia, a local paramilitary group affiliated with the Three Percenters anti-government movement. He was active in protesting COVID-19 restrictions during 2020.

On his campaign website, Korn said he would wean the county off “unnecessary” government grants, which usually come with strings attached, and that the county should be as independent from state and federal government as possible.

Glenn Lefebvre is running for the District 3 seat as an independent and will only appear on the November ballot.

Bradshaw’s open seat, District 1

With Bradshaw running for sheriff, his seat is left open for three other Republican candidates.

Bradshaw endorsed Brian Riley, owner of Riley Resources logging company in Sagle, calling him “solid.”

Riley said his leadership and management experience in the forestry industry would help restore function to the board. Both sides have valid points, he said, but it is important to listen and he supports public comment, which promotes goodwill.

For handling disruptions, he said it is important for the board to address those as soon as they come up.

“You need to take action before it escalates to the point that it did,” he said.

Like most candidates, Riley brought up concerns about land use and development. He said the county should find a happy medium without being overly restrictive or too loose in granting permits.

James Burroughs, a retired corrections officer who moved from California 10 years ago, is also running for the position.

He agreed that more listening will improve meetings and that Bradshaw leaving will help the situation.

Commissioners are spending taxpayer money, so the commissioners should listen to public input, he said, not shut them down just because they disagree.

“I believe we are there to answer people’s questions,” Burroughs said. If he doesn’t know the answer, he should find out and follow up.

Burroughs supports expanding the board to five commissioners, which would give voters more of a voice on the board.

He said he would take a 30% pay cut from the $94,000 commissioner salary, which he said is excessive for a public servant.

The Bonner County GOP endorsed Brian Domke, a landscape architect, for the District 1 position.

Domke, who served two years on the county’s natural resource committee, said he wants to protect the county’s rural character through more effective land use decisions.

The board should stop focusing on personality differences, he said. Instead, they should treat each other with respect and debate the merits of ideas.

“Ideas should be heard so we can make the best possible decisions for the county,” Domke said.

The board sets the tone for behavior at meetings and should lead by example, he said. True meeting disruptions have been infrequent, but the public feels a lot of discontent for not being heard.

He would move public comment from the end of meetings back to the beginning, so the public can comment on decisions before they are made.

Meghan Yeats is also running for District 1 as a Democrat.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.