COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — In a twist of fate, the efforts of some local Republicans to dismantle the Kootenai Democrats actually made them stronger, as reported by the Coeur d'Alene Press.
That’s what Kootenai Democrats Chair Evan Koch said Friday night, addressing a crowd of Democrats at the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene.
Candidates and voters came together to discuss the May 17 primary — and to celebrate a threat thwarted.
The threat was a reported plan by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee to infiltrate the Kootenai Democrats, install one of their own as party chair and spend donations on conservative candidates and causes, revealed in a recorded phone call published by The Press.
GOP leadership has denied the plot’s existence, though multiple Republicans told The Press that KCRCC members tried to recruit them and several have filed to run for Democratic precinct captain positions.
The news broke just two days before the filing deadline — and it reportedly galvanized local Democrats.
“We’ve always tried to recruit precinct captains,” Koch said Friday. “But the perception of the threat brought them out of the woodwork.”
More than 50 local Democrats stepped up to run.
Some attended Friday’s reception, alongside Democratic candidates for local and state offices.
- Larry Bieber, District 4B
- Teresa Borrenpohl, District 5B
- Kristy Reed Johnson, District 5A
- Shawn Keenan, Secretary of State
- Terri Pickens Manweiler, Lieutenant Governor
- Ben Pursley, U.S. Senator
- Shelby Rognstad, Idaho Governor
- David Roth, U.S. Senator
- Tom Stroschein, District 2B
Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad is staging a campaign as a write-in Democratic candidate for Idaho governor.
He believes he’s the best chance Idaho Democrats have had to win the gubernatorial race in 30 years, both because of his years of service as an elected official and his deep roots in the state.
“I really understand Idaho,” said Rognstad, a fourth-generation Idahoan.
The Gem State has changed dramatically, he said, as a result of its rapid growth.
“The people moving here are changing Idaho,” he said. “It no longer reflects the interests and values of Idahoans.”
Though Democrats are a minority in Idaho, Terri Pickens Manweiler said they deserve to have their voices heard in state government, where Republicans have a supermajority.
She also believes she has a real shot in the race for lieutenant governor.
“Having a seat at the table in Idaho is important,” she said. “Right now, (Democrats) don’t. They need someone loud in the room. I’ll be loud.”
Longtime Coeur d’Alene coach and teacher Larry Bieber said he’s focused on Idaho’s education system.
An annual report by the National Education Association found that Idaho had the lowest per-pupil spending of any state during the 2020-21 school year. Bieber said that’s unacceptable.
“We’ve got to keep our public schools open,” he told a parent of three school-aged kids at Friday’s reception. “That’s what my fight is going to be.”
Koch acknowledged that Democrats in North Idaho are fighting an uphill battle. He said they take pride in small victories and are working to win larger ones.
Meanwhile, Koch said he knows some Republicans are tired of the status quo in Kootenai County.
In the days after the KCRCC’s alleged infiltration plan came to light, even Republicans reached out to Koch, telling him they wanted to help.
Rather than trying to “retake” the Republican Party from the people who formulated the plot, Koch urged conservatives who want to see change to support Democrats running for local office.
The notion isn’t as outlandish as it might appear, he said.
“If conservatives really look at what Democrats stand for, they will find we have far more in common than we have in opposition,” he said.
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