Monday, September 20, 2021

Incumbents: Local GOP lied

Staff Writer | September 15, 2021 1:09 AM

At least seven city council members say they were excluded from a Republican vetting process, contrary to a claim from party officials.

In a Kootenai County Republican Central Committee release published Saturday in The Press, the organization stated “all incumbents” were contacted to participate in the vetting process. The announcement also said "all participants, incumbents plus the other candidates" were offered the opportunity to complete a standardized questionnaire, interviews, forums, and vetting.

Uninvited incumbents included:

• Hayden City Council members Richard "Dick" Panabaker and Jeri DeLange

• Post Falls City Council members Linda Wilhelm, Steve Anthony and Alan Wolfe

• Coeur d'Alene City Council members Kiki Miller and Amy Evans

"I really didn't expect them to lie and then the Coeur d'Alene Press to print it," Wilhelm said Tuesday. "No one contacted me. Nobody reached out to me. I had no interviews, and I didn't fill out any questionnaires."

Only two incumbents are on the "KCRCC Recommended Candidates" list: Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson and Lakeland Joint School District Trustee Debbie Major. More than 20 incumbents are running for reelection this November.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Wilhelm, a lifelong Post Falls resident and registered Republican.

Before serving as a Hayden City Councilwoman, Jeri DeLange was a KCRCC precinct committeeman and appointed secretary. Following her election, DeLange said the committee rescheduled its meetings on the same night as Hayden City Council.

"After that, my attendance dropped quite a bit," DeLange said Tuesday. "I told them it conflicted with the city council, and the council came first."

What inevitably influenced DeLange to end her involvement with the KCRCC, she said, was the “extreme far-right stance” committee members have taken over the past several years. DeLange describes herself as a moderate conservative.

DeLange was "greatly surprised" that she, a registered Republican and incumbent, hadn't heard about the KCRCC vetting process until Saturday. The KCRCC website lists DeLange with other candidates who didn't respond to the questionnaire.

"I can't respond to something I didn't receive," DeLange said. "It is misleading and not honest to the public."

DeLange expects the KCRCC recommendations to sway some public opinion.

"Getting involved in nonpartisan races, not being honest about contacting everyone, and putting out recommendations that may affect the election is not right," DeLange said. "The upcoming races are going to be very important. I encourage people to get out and vote based on qualifications."

According to the committee release, the objective of the KCRCC vetting process is to "identify qualified candidates for the various elected positions."

When Post Falls City Councilman Steve Anthony ran for office in 2017, neither party submitted a candidate questionnaire, he said. Anthony attributed the lack of city council vetting to its nonpartisan nature.

"Our decisions are not based on political party," Anthony said. "They are based on what is best for the community."

Anthony, a registered Republican, said he would have participated in the KCRCC vetting process if asked.

"(The KCRCC) say they contacted each candidate. I was not contacted," Anthony said.

The councilman stands by his actions in office. Still, Anthony worries about how the recommendations will influence election outcomes Nov. 2.

"Some people vote straight ticket, let's face it," he said. "It would be nice if both parties just let the citizens decide without outside influence. Partisan politics don't belong in local elections."

Since being elected the mayor of Hayden in 1988, Panabaker has served as Kootenai County commissioner and city councilman. Being a KCRCC-endorsed candidate wasn't of "particular concern" to Panabaker, he said. But to falsely claim he had chosen not to participate and pit another candidate against him was offensive.

"I feel like it's a slap in the face to people like myself and other Republicans to release this stuff when there is no reason for it," Panabaker said Tuesday. "I'm surprised at the Republican Party."

Like Anthony, Panabaker said city officials represent all constituents — not just one party affiliation. Operating as a nonpartisan body is beneficial and should continue, Panabaker believes.

"When we do these jobs, and I've been doing them for a lot of years, we don't discriminate," he said. "Democrat, Republican, Independent, green, red, black, white, it doesn't matter. We treat people the same no matter what."

However, Panabaker said there is a "movement in this country" to fill elected positions based on affiliation.

"What they're trying to do is politicize local offices," he said.

Post Falls City Councilman Alan Wolfe, who is politically unaffiliated, wasn’t “shocked” that the KCRCC didn’t ask him to participate. Even so, he was disappointed in the false KCRCC statement.

“That was probably the thing most concerning to me and the other people I talked to,” Wolfe said.

Coeur d'Alene City Councilman Woody McEvers said he was contacted to participate in the vetting process but wasn't interested.

"I guess I'm special," he said.

A longtime Republican, McEvers said his absence from the vetting process wasn't mean-spirited. He's just not "very political."

"I'm a working guy, blue-collar, just trying to help the community," McEvers said. "It's nothing against them."