SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioner Lewis Rich is mounting a write-in campaign to retain his seat on the board.
Rich, a District 3 commissioner who lost the Republican nomination to Cary Kelly in the May primary, declared himself a write-in candidate for the Nov. 6 general election.
Kelly amassed 2,379 votes in the primary, edging incumbent Rich by a 359-vote margin. Kelly was unopposed in the general election until Rich declared himself a write-in candidate on Aug. 23.
Rich, 65, said he initially had no plans to stay in the contest after his defeat in the primary.
“It wasn’t something I was giving any thought to,” Rich said on Wednesday.
But Rich said constituents and supporters have repeatedly urged him to stay in the race. Moreover, Rich said he is irked by what he perceives as a too-cozy relationship between Commissioner Mike Nielsen, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Kelly, all three of whom have existing or former ties to law enforcement.
Exhibit A in Rich’s contention is the commission’s approval of wage increases for some non-sworn personnel at the sheriff’s office. Wheeler managed to implement the raises without increasing his budget, but the move did not sit well with other elected officials and department heads.
“The relationships that are forming are not healthy and they’re not fair,” said Rich.
During his primary campaign, Kelly downplayed connections with Wheeler and Nielsen. Kelly said he would not shy from decisions that run contrary to Wheeler’s wishes and rejected insinuations that Nielsen influenced his decision to run. Nielsen has also disputed influencing Kelly’s decision to run.
Rich’s renewed candidacy, meanwhile, must confront a windswept reality in the history of Bonner County politics. There has never been a successful write-in campaign for elected office in Bonner County, according to Clerk Marie Scott, the county’s elections chief.
Rich is undeterred, however. A political strategist he consulted with pointed out that the District 3 race lacks a Democratic candidate and a dyed-in-the-wool Tea Party candidate, which he believes will boost his chances of a successful write-in campaign.
In addition to support from the general public, Rich said members of the half-dozen boards he chairs have also urged him to stay in the hunt.
“They’re all encouraging me to do the same thing,” he said.
The last concerted write-in campaign occurred in 2006, when Commissioner Karl Dye tried unsuccessfully to regain the GOP nomination Rich clinched in the primary.