The Kootenai Republicans Go to Boise
For the Kootenai Republicans, the most pressing issues are emergency powers, education and election integrity.
Republican victories in Idaho do not come from Kootenai County alone. But Kootenai County, home of Coeur d'Alene, is to Idaho conservatives what Texas is for Republicans across America. Candidates have to do very well in Kootenai to win statewide. Raul Labrador won the race for Attorney General by about 37,000 votes and about half of that margin came from Kootenai.
The achievement of Kootenai County in the 2022 primaries was to align its representatives and senators with its underlying conservatism. Kootenai developed a model method to vet candidates and then organize the county behind them.
The result was a steady stream of victories where insurgent candidates outpolled establishment candidates despite being outspent in the primary. Ben Toews, for instance, won the State Senate seat in District 4 over Tara Malek by a 60-40% margin, despite being outspent decisively. In that same district Joe Alfieri and Elaine Price squeaked out narrow victories against establishment candidates. Carle Bjerke defeated an incumbent Senator Peter Riggs in District 5 by an 62-38% margin, despite being outspent.
What kind of senators and representatives is Idaho getting from Kootenai County?
Before the election results were fully counted, Action Idaho talked to Bjerke, Price, and Alfieri about what they hoped to accomplish in office. It becomes clear that opposition to Gov. Brad Little’s management of the so-called COVID pandemic motivates many of these newcomers to politics. They also worry about threats lingering in Idaho's existing institutions.
Carl Bjerke, newly elected District 5 Senator, thinks “change in the culture of Boise is most important. This is a republic, this is a representative government, and one of my big reasons for doing this is some of the folks we send down to Boise don't actually remember the people they represent. If I go down to Boise, it's about the people I represent in District 5."
He continued, "Let's get back to the Idaho Constitution, let's start thinking about representing the people we said we would represent. There are a ton of things I believe strongly in, like our personal liberties. We saw how quickly our freedoms could be taken from us, you know, with what happened in the last couple of years with COVID and the pandemic, all that stuff. I'm a real staunch believer that it's individual rights that matter, and that's what this country was founded on... My hope is I can affect some positive change for Idaho, and that's why I'm here."
Elaine Price, a member of the Coeur d'Alene community and co-owner of Spartacus Coins Bullion, had similar concerns about Little's emergency declaration undermining personal rights and freedom.
"I'm passionate about getting our emergency declaration fixed," she said, "because it's only going to take a few words. I'm hoping that being a new person down there, I can rally enough people together to get that fixed, so we don't have the government overreach and having the Governor make decisions by himself, not including the entire community as it's intended to be."
Price also shares much of the local conservative's concerns with the changes and decisions being made in school systems and in media.
"I think the biggest things we need to jump into right away are making sure we are protecting our children. That is first and foremost on my mind. I do not like the grooming that's going on and the acceptance of pushing and sexualizing our children. I think it is so wrong, and I will do everything in my power to fight it."
Joe Alfieri's main concern revolves around integrity of local and state elections going forward, ensuring the people’s voices were heard at the polls.
"We like to think Idaho has strong election integrity," he told me, "unfortunately we don't. We don't have Voter ID, so that's something I'd like to address immediately. I want to go back on the No Excuse Absentee Ballot: If you're in the Military, or if you're in a hospital, you should have an absentee ballot. But if you just don't feel like voting in person, that's wrong. Voting should not be a convenience. It is an important right we exercise to be able to vote, and we have to take care to preserve that."
If this Kootenai contingent is any indication, then, the most pressing issues are emergency powers, education and election integrity. Education is a perennial topic in the legislative session—but ending the emergency powers and election integrity are new issues. Knowing the full scope the threats to election integrity requires much study and analysis because issues like ranked voting, election drop boxes, farming out public oversight of elections to private groups, and having fixed voting stations are also crucial to maintaining election integrity.
None of these Kootenai candidates trusts the Republican executives implicitly to accomplish these goals. And that sets up an interesting legislative session where the statewide office holders may face legislative resistance.