Election: Dist. 1 County Commission: Public lands, communication issues for pair

KOOSKIA — Public lands management and improving communication and education with county residents on its governmental operations are a few issues for candidates in the District 1 Commissioner race.

Incumbent Republican “Skip” Brandt will face fellow Kooskia resident, Independent George Perry, in the Nov. 4 general election.

This is a four-year-term position that receives an annual $23,945 salary.

Skip Brandt

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Skip Brandt

“The number one issue is how to force proper management of the federal acres in and around Idaho County,” said Brandt, one that impacts multiple areas including county tax base, economy and environmental health.

Brandt supports continued federal appropriations for rural Western counties, such as through Secure Rural Schools, that economically supplements governments for lost timber revenues within their jurisdictions; and PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) that provides funding based on the amount of nontaxable public lands. He also sees the need to improve public lands management, such as through working with existing federal managers and/or transferring this under state control, to support timber harvest and living wage jobs.

Brandt was appointed to the commission in 2007 and the following year was elected to a four-year term, and he served as commission chair from 2009 to 2013. He is co-owner of Stites Hardware. Prior to serving on the commission, Brandt served four years on the Kooskia City Council and three years as its mayor, after which he was elected to the Idaho State Senate, serving three terms. Brandt was involved with the local Masonic Lodge, and he is a current member of the Kooskia Volunteer Fire Department. He and his wife of 22 years, Pia, have a son attending Clearwater Valley High School.

“If anything is going to be done, it has to come through Washington, D.C.,” Brandt said, on changing policy and providing common sense into the public lands management process. Along with working relationships he has with Idaho’s Congressional Delegation and other officials in the Capital, he’s also a representative on the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, organized by Sen. Mike Crapo. The CBC has brought together varied interests – industry, government, environmental – to provide land management solutions for economic and forest health benefits and avoid litigation and political deadlock.

“At times I feel there is a real understanding to do management, but then we run into so many brick walls, mainly Washington, D.C.,” Brandt said. “A lot of folks outside the basin believe we are better off with the smoke in the air than the timber industry being an economic factor.”

Brandt continues his work on the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange, specifically on an option to avoid the net loss of private lands and related tax revenue to both the county and local schools.

On the ongoing issue regarding transferring federal lands management under state control, Brandt said, “It’s a necessary option if we are going to move forward with good environmental land management.” However, his dealings with the current Nez Perce Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Rick Brazell have encouraged him that many local federal managers are on the same page for balanced stewardship.

“My focus is to help the good Forest Service employees do their job,” he said, “and we’re starting to see some real movement there and real possibilities.”

On other county issues, Brandt said work needs to continue regarding solid waste management, and he looks forward to working with the new District 2 county commissioner on improving services on the prairie, including consolidation of dumpsters and the possibility of a regional transfer station. Continued issues for the commission will be outside pressures on making changes to the county jail, and the state judiciary looking for more spending for public defender services.

On why Brandt is running for re-election, he said, “This is my home; it always has been and always will be. I’d like my son to raise his family here. And there are a lot of outside influences that are trying to degrade the quality of life in our rural communities and take over.”

Questions to Brandt can be e-mailed to skip@skipbrandt.com.

George Perry

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George Perry

George Perry admits he’s not in the race to pick on the existing seated Idaho County Commission or its actions on specific issues. Rather, he’s responding to the need to provide voters a choice in the upcoming election, and if elected, to address citizen concerns he’s heard and improve two-way communication between them and their local government.

On county government, “Personally, I have no complaints,” he said, adding though he is not 100 percent behind all the commission’s decisions. As the filing date neared he saw no one stepping up to run, apart from the incumbent, so he decided to run to give voters another option to consider. While he would be a political novice, Perry said so were the current commissioners once, and he’s spent a lifetime both personally and vocationally accomplishing tasks and projects, and working with others to learn how if he didn’t know.

“Even if you don’t know how to do something, there is someone out there who does know how who you can find to teach you,” Perry said, echoing advice his Depression-era parents gave him. “And I’ve picked up several trades doing that.”

Perry and his wife, Kris, both 62, have lived on Crane Hill in the Big Cedar area for the past 36 years. He owns and operates Ruralistic Construction, mostly specializing in residential construction projects, and as well he has a varied background in multiple trades including truck driving and heavy equipment operation. Perry is a veteran, having served two years (1970-71) in the U.S. Marine Corps as a communications specialist. His community involvement includes the Kooskia Revitalization Committee (and helping build the U.S. Highway 12 kiosk and Kooskia EMS building); the Friends of the Kooskia Library; cleanup on a three-mile section of highway (for 12-plus years) for the county; Big Cedar community projects including its historic schoolhouse; an active member of the Ridge Runner Volunteer Fire Department; assists the Friends of the Lochsa Historical Ranger Station; and is on the steering committee for Idaho County Recycling, which includes helping set up the Riggins program.

Perry sees the need for better communication between the county and constituents to improve decision-making and information about how and why those choices are made. Services such as the road and bridge department, solid waste, and the performance of public employees are critical to residents; and issues such as the Upper Lochsa land swap and federal-to-state control of public lands are important to them. In the criticism on these is frustration because people only know half of the story, he said.

“I hope to educate myself, as much as the citizens of Idaho County,” he said, on the workings of the county, what it takes to run its operations from the perspective of those doing the jobs, and so bring better transparency, “so there’s a better exchange across the table,” he continued, between residents and their government.

Perry said he sees a strong labor pool in the region with many skills and potential employment options, and he would like the county to help develop and promote both job vocational training and opportunities for young adults. The potential is also available for promoting value-added products creation in the region – such as building components for construction: trusses, beams, cabinets – or in cogeneration facilities that utilize waste from both fuels through forest fire mitigation projects and timber industry production, “a win-win for both,” he said

To help do this, according to Perry, takes learning from others who have been successful in these areas, and from their mistakes, and then for the county to communicate with citizens on these possibilities, “and partner with people to be successful with these programs.”

On the present commission, he hasn’t “walked in their shoes,” and so he’s not about criticizing what led into the decisions – some controversial – they’ve made: “There isn’t anything about the past I can change, but there are things about the future I can help people become aware of,” Perry said.

“I’m willing to do the best job I can and that’s all I can offer the voters of Idaho County,” Perry said.

Questions on Perry’s campaign can be directed to the candidate by either phone, 926-4979, or e-mail, macgyver@wildblue.net.

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