Saturday, May 27, 2023

EDITORIAL: Power of the pulpit in local politics

| May 21, 2023 1:00 AM

The defeat of outstanding Community Library Network trustees on Tuesday can be attributed to two major factors.

And no, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee’s campaign isn’t one of them. Not directly, anyway.

The first is that Coeur d’Alene, a moderate, playing field-leveling force in local politics, couldn’t participate. Coeur d’Alene has its own library, operating within the city’s budget.

Unlike residents within the Community Library Network, a separate taxing entity, Coeur d’Alene voters had no say in the network’s trustee election. Consider the Coeur d’Alene School District levy request, which included Coeur d’Alene voters and demolished the opposition. Their participation most certainly would have swung the trustee election the other way.

The other reason Judy Meyer and Regina McCrea were ousted was because of ground zero for their challengers’ support. Never mind that the challengers made baseless and, in our view, immoral charges against Meyer and McCrea about promoting pornography for children in network libraries; the challengers were bolstered at the polls by activists among the religious community.

The Press is aware of several large congregations whose pastors boiled down the library trustee races not to budget management skills or ability to hire the best leaders, but to good vs. evil. And you can guess on which side of that battlefield the pulpit-pounding pastors plunked Meyer and McCrea.

While there’s plenty of time to analyze what’s happened, much of it a regurgitation of disturbing national and even international trends, a better approach might be to determine ways to mitigate the damage locally. Here are two.

First, identify the churches that are particularly active politically. A small team of leading citizens might be able to hold constructive discussions with church leaders in a non-confrontational, fact-based manner; people of faith with strong backgrounds politically, in business and other endeavors; people who are recognized as conservatives with deep community roots. Pastor Jim Putman, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond, and former economic development leader Steve Griffitts instantly come to mind, and many others would certainly qualify.

An additional approach is for all candidates to avail themselves of the forums that are increasingly held in local evangelical churches. Granted, to some candidates, that venue unacceptably merges church and state, and not every candidate will receive audible audience approval.

However, the statement made by declined invitations to participate can be construed in a number of negative ways, maybe the most damning being that the candidate doesn’t care what the audience thinks.

While completely changing the minds of politically motivated pastors and the most entrenched parishioners is highly unlikely, sincere attempts to communicate ideas are rarely fruitless. With so many races being decided by narrow margins, earning just a few votes at multiple opportunities can change an outcome.

And if not? Then we’re no worse off tomorrow than we are today.

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