CLARK FORK — A lot of ground was covered during the Farm Bureau’s candidate forum on Saturday, but the topics of discussion often turned back to familiar territory — holding the line on property taxes, economic development and experience.
With Democratic candidates coincidentally seated to the left and Republicans to the right, those seeking elected office in Bonner County outlined their positions and qualifications.
Bonner County Clerk
Incumbent Clerk Marie Scott, the only Democrat currently holding office in the county, said her experience is vastly greater than that of her challenger, Bud Mueller, a Republican and former county commissioner. Scott emphasized that the clerk’s position requires hands-on involvement every day and a knowledge of computer hardware and software.
“You have to know those programs, to be able to use those programs to be an effective administrator,” said Scott, who has held office since 1991.
Mueller concedes that he’s not the most computer savvy person, but said his experience as a commissioner and a businessman have given him the skills necessary to be an effective budget officer.
“I don’t know too much about computers, but we have a pretty good staff,” said Mueller, an instrumental figure in the dismantling of the county building department in the mid 1990s.
Mueller said he was motivated to run in an effort to learn how much reserve funding the county maintains. Scott said such information is no secret, although it’s difficult to provide ballpark figures because they change every day.
Bonner County Commission, District 2
Mike Nielsen, a Priest Lake Republican who won the GOP nomination last spring, pledged to be a problem-solver rather than a politician if he prevails in his contest with Oldtown Democrat Brian Orr.
“My goal is to stop the wasteful spending,” said Nielsen, who secured the GOP nod from incumbent Joe Young in the primary.
Although he’s not held public office, Nielsen said his background in the military, law enforcement and administration will serve the county well.
Orr, however, brings to the race his experience as former two-term county commissioner and mayor of Oldtown. Orr lost his seat to Young in 2008.
“My opponent has done nothing but make accusations and stir up trouble,” said Orr, making one of the more pointed remarks of the evening.
Nielsen said he is proud of his law enforcement background.
Bonner County Commission, District 3
Incumbent Republican Lewie Rich said his record on the county commission squares neatly with his campaign promises and he has put in 60-hour work weeks since being elected to ensure the most educated decisions get made.
“The toughest part of my job is the primary part — the budget,” said Rich, who faces Democratic challenger Melissa “Mel” Davis in the general election.
Davis said her business experience in the private sector and sacrifices in dark economic times have prepared her for the role of commissioner. She’s not held public office before, but does not see that as a hindrance.
“I absorb and process information very quickly,” she said.
In a departure from partisan stereotypes, both Rich and Nielsen advocated for a local option tax in light of declining revenues and other fee-based sources of income. Rich also explained that the board took substantially less funding from property taxes than it could have by law.
Orr, meanwhile, saw job creation as one the most pressing issues in Bonner County as the timber industry declines. Nielsen agreed, but said there is no “silver bullet” solution to joblessness in the county.
“It’s not the job of the county commission to provide jobs,” said Davis. “But it is their job to create an environment where jobs are fostered.”