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Rotarians respond to criticism

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | May 6, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — After an anonymous blog post blasting Rotarians in Kootenai County as “scoundrels” and “fake philanthropists” circulated widely online, local members are speaking out.

North Idaho Slow Growth is a website dedicated to “preserving the suburban-rural character of the region by limiting growth.” The site’s creator is unknown.

A recent blog post criticized North Idaho Republicans, a new group for Republicans who don’t feel represented by the Kootenai County GOP — and specifically skewered members who are also Rotarians.

“Every candidate who has ’N.I. Republican’ or ‘Rotarian’ on his resume should be rejected from consideration for public offices and commissioners,” the blogger wrote, adding that some of the information in the post may be inaccurate.

The blog features an image of a hand holding a wooden stake with a cross on it alongside the logos for Rotary International and North Idaho Republicans.

It also included a list of more than 70 members of North Idaho Republicans, as well as their occupations and associations. A total of 26 people on the list are Rotarians.

Rotary International is a humanitarian service organization with more than 46,000 clubs and around 1.4 million members worldwide.

The organization’s goals include fighting disease, providing clean water, promoting the health of mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies.

The Rotary Club of Coeur d’Alene — one of four clubs in Kootenai County — will celebrate its 100th anniversary on May 7.

Sandy Patano is the former vice chair of the Idaho State Republican Party. She’s a longtime Rotarian and one of the founders of North Idaho Republicans.

She pointed out that North Idaho Slow Growth’s list features many citizens and community leaders, including former elected officials, law enforcement and business owners.

“I’m honestly proud to be associated with this group of Republicans and the hundreds of others who have joined us,” she said.

Patano noted that the North Idaho Slow Growth blog is published anonymously, while the founding members of North Idaho Republicans are named on the group’s website.

“We allowed our names to be listed for public review because we want to be open and transparent,” she said.

The blogger characterized Rotarians as being part of a “network of insidious influence.”

“The Rotary Club is Freemasonry-lite,” the blogger said.

Gustave Loehr, one of the four founders of Rotary International, was reportedly a member of a Masonic lodge. The organization does not appear to have other links to Freemasonry.

North Idaho Slow Growth said many local organizations are “overrun with Rotarians and interlinked,” pointing to groups like the Boys and Girls Club, the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce and others. The blogger said most Rotarians are involved

Patano said that’s only logical.

“People who become Rotarians are involved in community and public service,” she said. “No matter what group we’re in, we believe in strong communities.”

Jim Faucher, a consultant for nonprofits and former Rotary president, said many Rotarians share common values, so he believes it makes sense for them to join the same groups.

“I think it’s natural,” said Faucher, who joined Rotary in Boise in the late 1970s. “We all believe in supporting the community.”

The quality that drew many of the same people to Rotary and to North Idaho Republicans can be described with Rotary’s motto, he said: Service above self.

Luke Russell, who retired in 2021 from his position as vice president of external affairs for Hecla Mining Company, has been a Rotarian for 22 years.

He said he’s proud to uphold the values that North Idaho Slow Growth criticized.

“The things that were attacked in that blog are what make Coeur d’Alene such a great place and why so many people want to live here,” he said.

He emphasized that no official connection exists between Rotary International and North Idaho Republicans.

“We’re not political,” he said. “We’re not a religious organization. All those things that might divide us go away and we focus on what we have in common.”