By Ben Olson
It was a packed house April 19 at the East Bonner County Library Sandpoint Branch, as about 140 community members turned out to hear candidates from the Library Board of Trustees speak on the issues that face the library. While many different topics came up for discussion, far and away the most consistent theme was what stance each candidate believed the library should take in dealing with “obscene materials.”
Library Director Viktor Sjöberg introduced the meeting and handed it over to moderator Ken Wood, who asked candidates to give brief opening statements.
Challenger Stacy Rodriguez said she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, before moving to San Diego, where she obtained a law degree and worked as deputy district attorney for San Diego for two decades. After retiring as a prosecutor, Rodriguez said she began teaching law enforcement personnel around the country.
“My husband, two daughters and I moved to Bonner County in 2016 after we decided we didn’t want to raise our children in Southern California anymore,” Rodriguez said. “Besides God and family, books are my lifeblood. … I need and I want our community library to be a safe and welcoming environment for all of Bonner County citizens.”
Incumbent Susan Shea said she’s running for reelection to the Library Board of Trustees because she strongly supports the First Amendment.
“This country was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Shea said. “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reinforces these principles guaranteeing every person in this country has the right to speak, publish, read or view what they wish without government interference or limitation. The library provides open access to ideas, and we’re legally and professionally obligated to provide all members of the community free access to library resources and services that are inclusive, regardless of the approach or format.”
Shea said that as a trustee for the past six years, and living and working in Bonner County for 30 years as an accountant with a local CPA firm, she has used her experience on the board to better understand the financial aspects of the library.
“The board has refused to take the 3% levy increase the past three years,” Shea said. “We’ve seen a reduction in expenses and an increase in services and programs. If reelected, I’ll continue to serve the community and defend the library against any challenges to the First Amendment.”
Wood then opened up the forum to a series of questions, starting with asking why each candidate was running.
“A few years ago, I began noticing a few things at the library that made me take pause,” Rodriguez said. “Books displayed on the rack out front … increasingly more often reflected a one-sided political agenda, one that doesn’t match the values held by most of Bonner County’s voters.”
Rodriguez said that while she noticed many books at the library that supported “progressive themes, rarely did I see a display that showed a conservative author that talked about conservative viewpoints.”
When asked what experience and skills she’d bring to the board, Rodriguez said that her experience as a mother comes first and foremost: “I need to know that mothers can bring their young children to the library without having to follow them around like shadows, making sure they don’t inadvertently pull a book off the shelf whose images they can’t unsee.”
When asked if she believes certain library materials should be restricted, Shea said, “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. I believe in peoples’ personal freedom to decide which books are appropriate for themselves based on their values.”
Rodriguez claimed she wasn’t an advocate for “book banning,” but rather, separating “obscene material” into an age-restricted area within the library. She also claimed the American Library Association to be run by a “Marxist lesbian.”
“For the past several years, our library has adopted the radical dictates of the ALA,” Rodriguez said. “They argue it’s free speech, but obscenity has never, under the law of the U.S., been protected by the First Amendment. … it’s being used as a cudgel and to sexualize children.”
As far as other concerns the board should address if elected, Shea said, “The board needs to protect the community’s ability to read,” as well as expanding long-term projects and community services “without increasing our local tax burden.”
Rodriguez wanted more tutoring services to be offered in the library as well as homeschool curriculum to be purchased for Bonner County parents who choose to school their kids at home, as she said she’s educated her own daughter.
When the topic of “obscene materials” came up again, Rodriguez claimed the library contained books that “would make a sex worker blush. A majority of voters don’t want to see little Johnny giving little Georgie a you-know-what. I can think of no interest in that.”
Another question asked whether each candidate would support a drag story hour.
“No,” Rodriguez said. “What is a drag queen? It’s a grown man who wants to dress as a woman. It’s not transgender usually because they still have the package. And at these events, Mr. Drag Queen gyrates around with his male parts out for little kids to see. … As a prosecutor, I’ve probably spent more time with transgender people than transgender people [have]. They do not think this is cool.”
Shea countered that she couldn’t imagine the community would have any interest in an event such as drag story hour.
“The library is here to serve the community and their interests in what the library has to offer,” Shea said. “If there was enough of an interest in this kind of thing in this community, and if people wanted to attend that event, I think I would support that as a way to support what the community wants. But I’m not aware that there’s that kind of interest in this type of event in this community.”
In closing statements, Shea said, “It’s not acceptable to forfeit just a little bit of your First Amendment rights in an effort to protect our community. A parent already has the right to approve which books are appropriate for their children and I would not abdicate their rights to my opponent and the group of people she represents because this is censorship and a violation of the First Amendment.
“There might be materials offensive to some and maybe even many in the library, but offensive is not pornographic,” she added. “… I am qualified, I am experienced and I am fiscally conservative. Stand with me and your family’s First Amendment rights.”
Rodriguez countered that, “no matter how many times people say that obscenity, not pornography, is protected by the First Amendment, that’s how many times they’ll be wrong. … My opponent said she would support drag story hours if there was enough community interest? What if the community wanted stripper poles? Are we going to have stripper poles installed because the community wants it? I don’t think so.
“This is the public library of Bonner County, not Sandpoint. … people don’t want their children seeing graphic, sexual images in the library,” she said. “… Let our community know what kind of library you want to have for your children.”
The election will take place Tuesday, May 16, 2023. To register to vote or request an absentee ballot, contact the Bonner County Election Office at 208-255-3631 or visit voteidaho.gov. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Friday, May 5. Early, in-person voting begins Monday, May 1 at the Bonner County Elections Office, 1500 Hwy. 2, Suite No. 124 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Tuesday, May 9.
*This article has been edited to apply a correction to one quote from Stacy Rodriguez.
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