Former state reps, sheriffs form new North Idaho Republican group

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Former Idaho politicians, state leaders and community members are joining together as the “North Idaho Republicans.” 

The new group says they are forming “in response to the growing dysfunction within area Republican politics.” To be clear, this group says they are not a Political Action Committee. They say they’re just an association wanting to be there for those who share the same “traditional Republican” values.

The nearly 100 founding members include former Kootenai County Sheriffs Ben Wolfinger and Rocky Watson, as well as many former elected officials like former Lieutenant Governor Jack Riggs. 

They say there was a “takeover of the Kootenai Co. Republican committee” in the last 10 years by Libertarians, Constitutionalists, John Birchers and Redoubters. 

During a news conference Wednesday, the group was critical of baseless claims and the spread of misinformation with what they say is “an intent to sow division.” They pointed out the repeated opposition to school levies in North Idaho and said the current party frequently tries to take over schools boards, hospitals and city councils. 

“we’ve also seen a network of growing disrespect. we’ve seen a network of people show up at meetings, an angry mob if you will, trying to intimidate elected officials, trying to do it through harassment. We see it in so many different forms of public meetings,” said Sany Patano, the former vice-chair of the Idaho State Republican Party.

“I am totally, totally opposed to the liberal national agenda,” Riggs said. “What we’re talking about today is not the liberal national agenda but our home, our town.” 

Riggs says the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee has alienated a lot of traditional Republicans or what people often referred to as “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only). 

‘It’s why some of the things that’ve taken place in our state, have taken place because they’re not actually Republicans,” said Randy Neal who attended the press conference in protest.

Riggs claims the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) tells its members how to vote, and that if there’s a Republican candidate who does not share the same views as the, they’ll find another candidate to challenge them.

“They weren’t going to endorse people who don’t follow their script. They only support candidates who are obedient to the cause and the mission they are engaged in,” Riggs said.

“I don’t have the time to look at each candidate, keep track of their voting records. It’s actually a nice resource and a nice tool to have when I’m making my choice to vote,” Neal said about the endorsed Republican list the KCRCC puts out.

The group says they have been in talks about creating the group after frustrations grew of where “things are going” with the KCRCC. The last straw, Riggs said, was the situation with the North Idaho College where board members fired the president without cause. Weeks later, three board members left.

With their announcement, the North Idaho Republicans identified five pillars they will embrace moving forward, including 

  • Providing an organized and welcome place of engagement for local Republicans
  • Proactively engaging, educating and embracing Republicans – longtime locals and new arrivals
  • Routinely providing accurate, honest and relevant information
  • Encouraging local citizens to be more actively involved and engaged in their government at all levels
  • Being a force for good in local communities, state and country

“This isn’t about a battle or creating, we don’t want to wage war. What we want to do is create a home for tens of thousands of Republicans in this county that don’t have a home right now,” Riggs said.

4 News Now reached out to current Kootenai County GOP Chairman Brent Regan about the group. He provided the following statement:

“I would like to hear how these folks define ‘growing dysfunction.’ Accusations without evidence is just grumbling.

The Kootenai County Republican Party has seen record voter turnout, record breaking fundraising (double last year), record attendance at our meetings, and our volunteer rolls have quadrupled in the last year. Our members come from nearly every precinct in the county, from rural to downtown Coeur d’Alene, making us the organization with the best representation of the citizens. We are considered by many to have the most effective central committee in the state because our members are active and hard working. Our Rating and Vetting system is being emulated many other Idaho Republican central committees.

If this is someone’s definition of ‘dysfunction,’ I would be very curious as to what they think ‘success’ looks like.

As for any new Republican group, we welcome them because good government requires active citizens.”

Following the press conference, Regan sent an additional statement regarding the claims the North Idaho Republicans put out in its meeting.

Their website claims that our extensive, comprehensive and transparent Rating and Vetting process is somehow “illegitimate” but they fail to say how. They claim we only “endorse their pre-selected candidates” which is demonstratively false as sunshine records will show that I donated the maximum allowed ($5,000) to one candidate in the SOS race and to another candidate in the AG race and neither made the list of recommended candidatesThey put up their slate of candidates but fail to give any detail as to how they were selected or by what standard. They attended our event and take pictures of our keynote speaker and then claim he is one of them. They post pictures kids at our 4th of July parade waving flags that were handed out by the KCRCC. Their “Why Now” page has a long list of false claims and conspiracy theories with ZERO supporting documentation.Our Rating and Vetting program was a result of voters asking for more information about candidates. As members of the Republican Party we have a fiduciary obligation to inform the voter as to which candidates actually believe in the Republican principles and policies articulated in out Republican Party Platform. We wouldn’t have raised as much money as we have from grassroots Republicans unless they approved of our efforts.

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