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Hospital trustees chosen

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | May 19, 2021 1:28 AM

Voters gave Kootenai Health’s trajectory a mixed vote of confidence Tuesday, as one of the hospital district board's two incumbents won re-election.

Dr. Robert McFarland (8,871) was the leading vote-getter in winning one of the three open seats on the board early this morning. Steve Matheson (8,781) had the second most votes, and the third and final open seat went to incumbent Katie Brodie (8,729).

The board chair, Dr. Terence Neff, finished fourth.

"The citizens have spoken, and I fully respect their vision," Neff told The Press Tuesday night. "If the people of Kootenai County decide to have leadership go a different direction, I respect their decisions. That’s how the process is supposed to work."

Tuesday’s election bore the weight of a heated political conversation that has infected health care over the past 15 months, as COVID-19 has run roughshod across the country and around the world. Divisive mask mandates and conspiracy theories over the dangers of the pandemic have hampered local discourse.

One candidate, Dr. Duke Johnson, ran on a platform that questioned the science behind the pandemic. His campaign came up on the losing end Tuesday, as he, Neff and Chris Nordstrom failed to make it into the top three.

“I would hope that our campaign brought to light issues that were important to the citizens who did support me,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “I hope that the future board would take that carefully into consideration, knowing that a segment of the county clearly expressed interest in the topics I brought up.”

The race was further politicized after the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee continued its trend of endorsing candidates in nonpartisan affairs like the Kootenai Health board of trustees positions.

“I’m sad to see it turn into a political campaign,” Neff said. “I think we do the best service to our county if we remain apolitical. Health care should not be a political issue.”

That politicization also likely brought voters to the polls, however, as Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon observed that Tuesday’s odd-year May election was unlike any he’s ever seen.

The vote count would have been different had a startling number of voters correctly filled out their ballots. Brannon said many votes cast in the hospital trustee race were invalidated as a result of “over-voting.”

“There are six people running for three seats on the hospital board,” Brannon said. “You don’t get to vote for all six. You don’t get to vote for five. You don’t get to vote for four. You only get to vote for three. We’re seeing a huge amount of over-votes.”

Even setting over-votes aside, Brannon said the turnout kept the 320 poll workers and the Third Street Elections Office staff more than busy. He said the voter draw of 24 percent easily exceeded the last odd-year May election in 2019, where roughly 7.5 percent turned out to vote.

“A 12 to 14 percent turnout is considered big,” Brannon said. “This has been the most highly contested non-primary May election I’ve ever seen.”