SANDPOINT — A contested race is developing for the Republican nomination for the District 3 seat on the Bonner County Commission.
Cary Kelly, a Bonner County Sheriff’s lieutenant who supervises the marine patrol, said on Tuesday he will challenge incumbent Commissioner Lewie Rich for the GOP nod.
“It’s an opportunity to serve the public in a little larger capacity than I’ve been doing,” said Kelly, who worked for the county for the past 18 years, 11 of which have been in a supervisory capacity.
Kelly is set up to face Rich, a two-term Republican, in the May 15 primary election. Rich confirmed on Tuesday he intends to seek re-election.
Bonner County voters will also cast ballots for the commission’s District 1 seat, sheriff and prosecutor during the primary.
Kelly said he was motivated to run for office this fall, as infighting on the county commission began to rise and skirmishes broke out with the clerk’s office over the county’s insurance provider, employee health insurance and budget auditing.
Strife between Commissioner Mike Nielsen, who was elected last year, and Rich caused the board to enter into private mediation in an attempt resolve their differences.
“More than anything, I think they need new leadership on the Bonner County Commission,” said Kelly.
Kelly, 69, bills himself as a conservative who pledges to be fiscally responsible and limit government intrusion into people’s lives. He has not held or run for public office before.
However, Kelly is well acquainted with budgets and gained a lot of management experience through his prior military service.
The Illinois native and Vietnam veteran hold degrees from Stanford University and the University of Stockholm. During his career with the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly commanded three aviation units. He left active service as a colonel in 1993 and moved to Bonner County.
Kelly is perhaps best known in Bonner County for getting the marine patrol shipshape by toning down its former authoritarian image and placing more emphasis on assisting the boating public.
“I’m kind of looking forward to it,” Kelly said of his run for office. “If nothing else, I will meet a lot of good folks and it will be a learning experience.”