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Election brings change

by Alecia Warren
| November 4, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - The final election results on Wednesday marked the last term for two long installed incumbents, with voters unseating both Rick Currie, district 2 county commissioner for eight years, and Dan English, county clerk for 15 years.

"I'm disappointed," Currie said on Wednesday morning, as he continued dismantling his election signs. "The national Republican party, which did very well, it just sort of resonated into the local elections."

A write-in candidate, Currie only snagged 15 percent of the vote, or 5,370 votes. He was easily defeated by Jai Nelson, a Republican businesswoman from Coeur d'Alene, who brought in 85 percent with 30,899 votes.

English, a Rathdrum Democrat, only brought in 16,290 votes. His opponent Cliff Hayes, a Republican and retired Post Falls police chief, netted in 24,935 votes.

There was a 60 percent voter turnout in Kootenai County.

Although a Republican himself, Currie said it was asking a lot for voters to write in his name instead of just marking Republican bubbles.

"I think the nation just went right down the ballot and checked, 'Republican, Republican,'" he said.

Looking back on his years since being elected in 2002, Currie pointed to achievements like helping launch the Citylink transit, and contracting with Kootenai Electric to use landfill methane for electricity.

"We've done some great things," he said.

After the term runs out in January on his $70,000 a year job, he plans to pursue a new business, while still contributing to his family's financing and property management business.

He doesn't know if he'll run again.

For now, there is the county Comprehensive Plan to finish, Currie added.

"I still have a job to do," he said.

Nelson is already preparing for the commissioner seat she will take over the first week of January.

She plans to immediately pursue the ideas she campaigned about, she said, like reviewing the county budget and creating a temporary freeze on property tax based budget increases.

"I've got a lot of things I want to accomplish," she said. "I just want to thank my supporters in how hard they worked through two elections to get me in."

English said he was disappointed to lose after such a long tenure as clerk.

"I would've liked to have had at least one more term to envision some of the programs (planned)," he said. "On the other hand, I certainly respect the way the election process works, and I'm very grateful for the time that I had."

His greatest achievements over his decade and a half in office include helping create the elections law for multiple absentee voting sites, he said. He also made Kootenai County among the first to post live elections results online.

"I certainly felt good about the work that I did in all the departments," he said.

He doesn't have plans after his term runs out, he said, though running again is a hazy possibility.

His current priority is showing the ropes to Hayes, English said. No small task, as the clerk - for an annual salary of $69,000 - oversees elections, district court and much of the county's finances.

"I certainly admit there will be some stress relief," he said with a laugh.

Hayes thinks he came out ahead because of recent incidents surrounding the clerk's office, like the Coeur d'Alene City Council election challenge, and problems with revenue distribution to taxing districts.

Hayes already plans to pursue changes to some election laws, he said.

"There are so many little things that just seem to go through the cracks because they're not addressed properly in the law," said Hayes, who only plans to serve one term. "I'm looking forward to serving the county residents."

Wednesday also saw a new county coroner elected. Hayden Republican Debbie Wilkey netted 66 percent of the votes with 26,918 votes, while Democrat Jody DeLuca Hissong garnered 34 percent with 13,851 votes.

Wilkey, who has been deputy coroner since 2004, is a registered nurse with a master's in forensic anthropology. She believes her background appealed to voters.

"It's my intention that the legacy of the current coroner doesn't end with him," Wilkey said of Dr. Robert West, retiring after this term. "I'll use everything I have to make sure you get the best cause of death."

The county coroner earns a salary of $61,537.

Hissong, chief deputy coroner for nearly 30 years, said she was surprised by the results.

"Partisan politics ruled the world yesterday, when this particular office shouldn't even be partisan," she said.

She preferred not to disclose her next career step, she said, but she won't be running again.

"Never. This killed me," she said. "I have too thin a skin."

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