Library trustee candidate — a Republican — decries GOP tactics
Community Library District Trustee Robert Fish is worried about more than just his position on the library's board, but the politics of Kootenai County elections as a whole. (MADISON HARDY/Press)
Staff Writer | April 14, 2021 1:09 AM
Censoring literature on library shelves is something Community Library District Trustee Robert Fish won't — and can't — do.
But he believes his refusal to do so has landed him without an endorsement from Kootenai County's Republican Central Committee in the upcoming election.
Fish, the current director of the Pachyderm Club of North Idaho and prior elected member to both the San Diego and Los Angeles County Republican Central Committees, said he has been a proud Republican his entire adult life.
He wasn't elected as a Community Library District Trustee because of his political affiliation four years ago, as it’s a nonpartisan office. However, he believes the lack of a KCRCC endorsement will likely cause his removal in the May 18 election.
Due to his conservative fellowship, Fish recently participated in an interview with KCRCC Vice Chair Rob Barrans and other committee representatives. During the in-person meeting, Fish said the individuals were most interested in whether Fish would be willing to censor books the committee found objectionable.
"They read to me from a book that I did not get the name of that was apparently from one of the libraries that describes something about transgender and gay activity,” Fish said. “They were obviously uncomfortable.”
Fish gave them an answer they didn’t like.
"The library is not in the business of censorship,” he said. “We don't censor books. We don't censor any of our materials. The reason libraries exist is to provide information for anything to anybody that has an interest in it. We don't try to decide what people can read and talk about."
Fish pointed to Community Library Network Materials Selection Policy, which states that while trustees are free to reject materials that they do not approve of, "he/she cannot exercise censorship to restrict the freedom of use and access to others."
The policy also states that the district follows the Freedom to Read Statement (1953) and the Library Bill of Rights (1939) adopted by the American Library Association which protects libraries from threats of censorship and suppression of free speech.
Cynthia Reyburn, a friend of Fish and a former employee of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library, also was interviewed by the KCRCC. She has been a Republican since she first registered to vote at 18 years old. However, after experiencing a similar line of questioning by the KCRCC, Reyburn withdrew her candidacy.
"They wanted me to affirm that I would uphold not only the Republican perspective but also agree that if they backed me, I would vote their way, and if there were matters of books or other materials to suppress, I would," Reyburn said.
Reyburn said individually she may agree with their perspective that certain things or ideologies shouldn't be in a public library. However, she disagrees with censoring material unless it involves illegal concepts.
She worries that the two other candidates being backed by KCRCC — Rachelle Ottosen and Vanessa Robinson — accepted the KCRCC's proposition. Reyburn sees censoring ideas as a failure in serving the community.
"The only group that should affect an electorate is the public, in my opinion. Not a special interest group," Reyburn said. "I'm a firm anti-Democrat, a firm Republican, and a firm conservative, but I still don't believe in censoring public library materials and don't believe in being controlled."
Unfortunately, Reyburn said, this type of political control is rampant in Kootenai County.
"It's not about being Republican. It's about a narrow group of Kootenai County that is so controlling they would even go as small as a library board," Reyburn said. "It's really sad because I don't want this to come out against the Republican Committee because it’s not about being Republican or Democrat, it’s about being North Idaho thinking they can control people that way through pressure."
Chairman of the KCRCC, Brent Regan, said Tuesday that the interview process for election candidates is detailed, open and fully transparent. The KCRCC diversity subcommittee administers the initial interview, Regan said, before conducting forums at a regular meeting and casting private ballot votes.
"It is not surprising that candidates who did not score well have a low opinion of the process," Regan said regarding Fish's comments. "Conversely, candidates that receive a high ranking applaud the process."
Regan did not say whether or not library candidates were asked about their willingness to censor material. He said the questionnaire and candidate responses are available online at the Kootenai GOP website.
While Fish is worried about his election, he’s more concerned about what the increasing number of partisan-based races mean for Kootenai County at large. Over the last few years, Fish has seen a trend where KCRCC-endorsed candidates, vetted for their conservatism, win.
"The Republican Central Committee in Kootenai County is attempting to take over every one of these areas. These are all nonpolitical types of jobs," Fish said. "The central committee is attempting to invade them and control them."
Pulling out a printed image of the "Official Kootenai County Republican Party Recommended Conservative Candidates," paid for and distributed by the Kootenai County GOP, Fish noted that neither he nor the other trustee incumbent, Michele Veale — a registered Democrat — were on the list.
"I probably never would have brought this up because whoever speaks up like I'm doing right now is going to be punished," Fish said. "People I feel are my friends will turn against me. People will be talking about me when I walk into a room because I'm going against them. That's part of their (the KCRCC) strategy."