Early voting open, absentee ballot deadline approaching for May 16 election

E. BoCo Library Board of Trustees and Pend Oreille Hospital Board members on the ballot

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Bonner County voters will head to the polls Tuesday, May 16 for an election that will include candidates for trustee positions on the East Bonner County Library Board and Pend Oreille Hospital District.

Incumbent Library Board Trustee Susan L. Shea is on the ballot for reelection to a six-year term, facing challenger Stacy Rodriguez. For Pend Oreille Hospital District, voters will be asked to cast ballots for four candidates, also serving six-year terms of office. Contenders are Cynthia Buse, Bart Casey (incumbent), Timothy Cochran (incumbent vice chair), Jim Frank (incumbent) and Dwayne Sheffler.

Voters cast their ballots at the VFW Hall polling station in Sandpoint. Photo by Cameron Rasmusson.

The East Bonner County Library District Board of Trustees consists of five members, charged with serving as the governing body of the library — including setting and overseeing the local library system’s budget; hiring, supervising and evaluating employees; working with the library director on policy and operations; and ensuring “its community is well represented and informed regarding their local library and public libraries in general,” according to the district’s website.

Shea has served on the EBCLD Board since 2017. She has campaigned on her long professional experience in financial operations, having been a Bonner County resident for 30 years and working at Coldwater Creek, Timberline Helicopter, the Southside Water and Sewer District, and director of the Bonner County Indigent and Charity Program.

“Her experience helped to reduce the amount of the levy each year and to steadily reduce the community’s library tax contributions by declining an annual 3% tax increase,” according to her bio page on ebonnerlibrary.org.

Rodriguez came to Bonner County in 2016 and volunteered at the East Bonner County Library as a tutor in English, writing and math. A retired deputy district attorney from San Diego, she has worked as a trainer of police and probation officers, homeschooled her daughter from third grade to her current grade as a high-school junior, taught eighth-grade homeschool at the Sandpoint branch of the library and, since 2020, served as coach for the local National Christian Forensic Communication Association club and Salt & Light Speech and Debate. Rodriguez is also a lector and Eucharistic minister at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

“She is also an avid reader, a bibliophile and an indie bookstore guru, but remains thankful that our public community library has saved her lots of money,” Rodriguez’s bio on the library website states.

Where Shea and Rodriguez have differed is in the hot-button issue of what constitutes “appropriate” library materials for minors and how — or even whether — they should be made available by public libraries. That policy discussion has made headlines in recent years, including the 2023 Idaho Legislature session, which included the controversial House Bill 314. The measure passed both House and Senate chambers, defining “obscene” and material considered “harmful to minors” and granting authority to Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador’s office to pursue civil legal action up to $2,500 against libraries for making such material available to minors.

Gov. Brad Little vetoed the bill in a late-session move in March, worried that it “makes sweeping, blanket assumptions that could be determined ‘harmful to minors,’” and created a “library bounty system” that would encourage legal challenges threatening the financial stability of libraries across the state.

Conservative lawmakers mounted an effort to override Little’s veto on the final day of the legislative session on April 6, but failed by one vote after 24 legislators voted against overturning the governor’s decision.

At a candidates forum April 20, library board contenders Shea and Rodriguez shared their perspectives on how to handle “offensive” or “harmful” material. 

“Every person’s freedom to read what they wish is guaranteed by the First Amendment and reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court again and again,” Shea said. “I believe in peoples’ personal freedom to decide which books are appropriate for themselves based on their values.” 

Rodriguez, while saying she was not in favor of “book banning,” said she’d advocate for setting aside “obscene material” into a separate age-restricted area of the library, adding that the American Library Association is run by a “Marxist lesbian” and has foisted “radical dictates” on the East Bonner County Library in past years. 

She claimed that the First Amendment has been “used as a cudgel to sexualize children” by making “books that would make a sex worker blush” available to minors.

Meanwhile, the Pend Oreille Hospital District election has not generated nearly the same rhetorical heat, though its functions and policies have also touched on another red-hot political conflict — this time surrounding women’s health care and, specifically, access to reproductive services surrounding childbirth, delivery and access to a range of treatments including abortion.

Following the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, which established access to abortion as a right, states were granted the authority to formulate their own policies regarding access to abortion. Idaho, among a handful of other states, followed the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in 2022 by instituting strict sideboards to abortion care via “trigger laws,” in most cases making the procedure illegal, except in cases of extreme and specific instances of jeopardy for a mother’s life.

Medical providers around the country objected, and Bonner General Health announced in March that it would suspend birth and delivery in its Bonner and Boundary County service area, citing the legal and political climate as an impetus for the flight of qualified practitioners from the state and a barrier to recruitment of replacement professionals.

The Pend Oreille Hospital District Board is a seven-member political subdivision of Idaho, which supports hospital facilities within Sandpoint and “approximately two-thirds of Bonner County, Idaho,” according to pendoreillehospitaldistrict.org. Current trustees include Chair Dr. Thomas Lawrence, Vice-Chair Timothy Cochran and members Dr. Scott Burgstahler, Bart Casey, James Frank, Helen Parsons and Dan Rose.

Early voting started May 1 and will continue through Friday, May 12, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Bonner County Elections Office (1500 U.S. Hwy. 2, Suite 124 in Sandpoint). Absentee ballots may be requested at voteidaho.gov or downloaded at the Bonner County Elections website: bonnercountyid.gov/departments/CountyClerk, click on “Elections” in the menu.

Requests for absentee ballots can be dropped off, mailed, emailed or faxed to the Elections Office. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Friday, May 5 at 5 p.m. Sample ballots are available precinct-by-precinct at the Elections Office website.

Polls on Election Day will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Go to the Elections Office website to identify your polling place.     

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