Local Democrats hear dire news from Kootenai County Democrat chairman
By Clarice McKenney
Koch, who professionally is an anesthesiology nurse, said he started in politics at the age of four, accompanying his father door-knocking for the political campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and later for John F. Kennedy.
“The times were very different then, but while living in California, I drifted away from political involvement. It didn’t matter if I voted or not because Dems won anyway,” he joked.
His wife, Loree Peery, is a fifth-generation Post Falls native, so after the children grew up, the couple moved here. After years of not having a lot of friends because hunting and fishing are not his thing, Koch said, “all that changed suddenly when Trump was elected.
“I needed to do something about it, something positive, and to spend time with others who felt as I did. I started as precinct captain, reaching the positions I have now, not so much because I’m well qualified,” he said, modestly, “but I quickly went up the ladder because not many are willing to serve.”
When he became Chair of Kootenai County’s Democratic Central Committee, Koch said, he was surrounded by what he termed “gray hairs,” as his mostly older audience looked around at one another and laughed. He said he reached out to younger people to try and change that. “But one of the biggest challenges for us, and I imagine for you, too, is that so many Democrats are registered as Republicans.” Although the Democrats still have an open primary race, some years ago Republicans closed their primary except to voters registered as Republicans.
He said, “Loree and I live in the company of my in-laws, most of whom are Republicans. We all get along, and I feel that’s what we all must do in this country.” However, he admitted, this has become extremely difficult since Brent Regan moved here 20 years ago from California and began using his inherited wealth to take over North Idaho.
“Regan worked himself into the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, chasing off women and anyone who did not agree with his positions. Then, now-committee chair Regan extended his control, electing the sheriff, county assessor, the board of North Idaho College and now our county library board.” Reagan also is Chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which has helped create legislation Democrats consider the most dangerous to the state and country.
On a related topic, Koch commended Boundary County: “You guys saved your own library, but we lost ours,” Koch said, sadly. “We have liberal, progressive people who are studiously nonpartisan. That’s the way it should be, public servants serving all citizens, not just citizens who share elected officials’ religion or partisan politics.”
Koch explained that Regan and his Republican Central Committee even tried to politicize Kootenai Health, North Idaho’s largest and most diversely specialized hospital, in Coeur d’Alene. Many in the audience were audibly horrified at that because so many in Boundary County rely on Kootenai Health’s services. “Kootenai Health was too smart for them and converted to a 501C-3 nonprofit that can nominate and elect themselves to their board,” he said to cheers.
After listening to Koch, many in the room shared specific concerns about the future of public service. There were questions about local offices, those in the Idaho Legislature and on the national level.
“Many of our successful Democrats don’t wear their affiliation on their sleeve,” Koch stressed, adding that most Democrats have no idea how strong a presence Idaho has in national government. He told the group, “Mary Lou Reed was a power house in Idaho politics into her ‘90s, and her son, Bruce, now is Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House.”
He told the Democrats, “The far right are single-minded people who are well financed and zealous. It would take a great deal of money to bring us “more folks like Frank Church.” Koch shared his personal belief that Democrats need to continue joining coalitions with others, including long-standing Republicans who hate what has happened to their party like North Idaho Republicans, a subgroup that he said hopes to reclaim their party.
Longtime local Democrat Jeff Fee asked Koch, “Where do you think all the extremists have come from?” Koch replied, “We’ve experienced an enormous influx of right-wing extremists, like (infamous murderer of unarmed protestors) Kyle Rittenhouse. They have moved here specifically to make our area part of what they call the American Redoubt.
“Speaking of which, I got a call from a guy who said he is from the Times of London,” Koch said. “After I verified that Alastair Good really is a video journalist with the “Sun Times,” I learned that he was doing a video on these demographic changes.
His 50-minute piece, called “Inside the American Redoubt” is on YouTube, and Koch is featured in the documentary. Included in the video are interviews with key Idaho radicals in the movement and then-Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a Republican who was elected four times in spite of major opposition from the radical right.
The Redoubt basically is a group of disappointed Trump voters and Christian Nationalists who are working to take over Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as well as eastern parts of Washington and Oregon. Good traveled to Coeur d’Alene to learn more about these people’s extreme views. There has been talk for decades of North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon becoming a separate state, but Good learned that today’s movement has plans for the whole Redoubt area to secede from the Union.
Koch explained that a married couple, longtime Kootenai Democrats, both of whom are social workers recently sold their farm in two 40-acre plots to Christian nationalists determined to produce “full quivers” of children, a Biblical term from Psalm 127, for their cause. Fee pointed out that Boundary County was invaded by groups of Redoubters, one working under the name of Black Rifle Real Estate. Another group calls itself “Oath Keepers,” and its leaders are convicted seditious conspirators.
A Moscow, Idaho resident, Kate Beasley, was concerned about Congress and asked, “Why haven’t we heard that all members of Congress have to raise in some cases a million dollars a year for their dues and end up spending more time on fundraising than their actual Congressional duties?” Koch and several others said they were not aware of such exorbitant party dues. “We all know they spend most of their time in office raising money to be reelected,” added another woman in the audience, “and that should be changed. We need to remove money from politics.”
Fact-checking the “dues,” US News & World Report states that both parties award committee assignments based on amounts members contribute from campaign contributions. It states that members share large amounts from their campaign coffers to help their party elect lesser-known candidates.
“As a lifelong Christian, I’m very proud of Christian pastors from many denominations who began Christians Against Christian Nationalism,” said a former Bonners Ferry precinct captain. “They are fighting back against lies from radicals who call themselves “Christians.” But they do not behave or speak as Jesus taught us. I think it is up to each of us individual Christians to call them out on this.”
Before the delicious potluck dinner, members of the group were observed happily mingling and engaged in deep conversation, something normally enjoyed by a handful at the monthly meetings of the Boundary County Democratic Party Central Committee. After the speech, members of the Central Committee helped clean up as the crowd quickly dispersed.
The event raised a substantial amount to help fund future candidates, according to Committee Treasurer Stephen Howlett, during a telephone interview. Howlett himself has often been a candidate for statewide offices. He invited any Democrat interested in knowing more to attend a meeting of Boundary County Democrats.
“We meet at 5:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at Mi Pueblo Restaurant. We’re also on Facebook at Boundary County Democrats. I have high praise for Nancy Wykoff, our chair, who has led us Dems under difficult circumstances,” he said.
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