Candidate Q and A
We sent a list of questions to all of the candidates for City Council and Lake Pend Oreille School Board asking their position on a number of human rights related issues.
Here are the responses we have received so far. Please check back frequently -- we'll post additional replies as we receive them.
From Jason Welker, Candidate for City Council
1. The mission of the BCHRTF is to affirm the American principles and ideals of the inviolable dignity and worth of each human being. Who do you think experiences the most discrimination in our community? Is it discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status or disability (including mental illness)?
I find it difficult to describe or understand the experiences of groups of which I am not a part. As a middle-class white male who owns his own home and has healthcare benefits provided through my spouse's work, in a family that earns a salary that allows us to live comfortably enough in Sandpoint, I can only look around and make assumptions about how groups that I am not a part of experience this community. While Sandpoint lacks in racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, we are quite diverse in terms of socio-economic status. The most visible inequalities I see locally are along the lines of socio-economic status. Our community offers endless amenities and opportunities for recreation to those with enough money to enjoy them (boating, skiing, mountain biking, etc.) but for those working long hours at low incomes, who just struggle to make their ever-increasing rent payments, Sandpoint has little to offer in terms of quality of life-enhancing opportunities. We could do better to diversify our recreational amenities and provide opportunities to include those who are lower down on the socio-economic ladder.
2. The BCHRTF was established in 1992 to confront the growing challenges of white supremacist organizations and activities in and around Bonner County. To what extent do you think that challenge exists today? Is this still a challenge—or should the TF say mission accomplished?
There is certainly evidence that there are still residents of Bonner County who at the very least sympathize with white supremecist ideologies. Whether there are active white supremicist organizations in the area, I have no idea. I have heard vehement denials from some corners that there are any actual white supremecist organizations still active, while other corners of the community claim that some of the local militias are, in fact, white supremecist groups. I don't agree with this. Just because a group of citizens that shares a passion for the second amendment exercises their rights to gather around common values that are allowed under our constitution does not make that a white supremecist group. Our area is NOT diverse racially, so any group of white people that get together around a shared set of interests could, from the outside, be mistaken for a white suprecist group. Where we have to draw the line is when those groups begin communicating to the public and engaging in community activities; if the messages groups send out is one of exclusion of people of different races, ethnicities, or religious identities, then that it becomes harder NOT to consider a group white supremecist.
I think it is important from groups like the BCHRTF to remain vigilant and to communicate the values of diversity and inclusion, but not to infringe on the rights of any other citizen groups to gather around their own sets of shared values, as long as those groups are not activity communicating or engaging in explicitly racist or white supremecist activities in the community.
3. What do you think can be done to counter the reputation that North Idaho has, nationwide, as a haven for racists and white nationalists?
I believe that reputation is largely rooted in a period of North Idaho's past that is, for the most part, behind us. I believe that North Idaho's reputation today is as a haven for beautiful natural places, wonderful recreation opportunities, and amenities for both year-round and short-term residents and tourists alike. As I travel around the West and tell people I'm from Sandpoint, I have never heard someone say, "Oh, that's in *racist* North Idaho, right?" No, almost universally people associate Sandpoint with outdoor recreation, our lake, our mountain, and access to beautiful nature.
4. How does this reputation affect the lives of those of us who live here? How does this reputation affect our community’s ability to attract potential employees and visitors?
It does not. Our natural and cultural amenities FAR outweigh any residual reputation leftover from a (now distant) history of powerful white supremecist groups that existed in the region. The few remnants of those groups are hiding deep in the hills and do not define our community any longer.
5. How important do you think it is to work toward making Sandpoint a community where everyone feels valued, everyone feels safe and everyone can thrive?
Of course this is important. However, it comes back to the socio-economic inequality that is preeminent in our community today. Not everyone CAN feel valued and loved when home prices are increasing by 50% a year and the city and developers are failing to enact policies and incentives that will solve our affordable workforce housing crisis.
6. Do you feel that has been achieved, and if not, what stands in the way?
No, it has not. In the past Sandpoint was a place where a young working family could lay down roots. Today Sandpont is a place where high paid remote workers, second homeowners, and rich retirees can lay down roots. In order to make Sandpoint an inclusive place, and in return a more diverse place (racially, ethnically, and socio-economically) we must do better at steering development in a way that meets the needs of the people who work here over those that wish to call it their second home or to retire here or to work remotely from here.
7. If you are elected, what is the first step you would take toward making the above vision a reality?
I have said this many times in my campaign. If elected, I will direct city staff to prepare a plan for promoting workforce housing in Sandpoint, and to re-start the Comprehensive Planning process that was put on pause at the end of 2019. Our city's Comp Plan is 12 years old, two years overdue for an update, and must be revisited so we know what the values and the visions of the people who live here today are for the next ten years. With this "visioning document" in hand, city council and city staff can begin implementing policies that meet the needs of all the people of Sandpoint, not just of the private developers and rich out of state buyers and tourists whose interests recent patterns of growth and development seem to be more concerned with.
From Wayne Benner, Candidate for City Council
I was around during the conception of the task force and was involved through the Chamber and Schweitzer.
1. I do not believe you can single out one category over the other. It all depends on the situation and who you are talking with as to what is more important at that time. Also left off seniors.
2. Activities and events still occur and after the last 4 years have become more prevalent with the rise of the far right and social media. Yes the task force has done an excellent job but addressing discrimination has been going on for decades and will continue. We just need to be positive and non reactive.
3. We need to get more Love Lives Here signs around the community including the business. We have a sign. Welcome those that want to be a positive part or have a positive experience in the community. Address the pickup trucks that blow black smoke and race around town and neighborhoods flying flags. Tough ones when it comes to free speech.
4. Since racism and discrimination brings out the negative views and actions we need to reverse the trends and focus on the positive that people bring to a diverse community.
5. It is extremely important and and we should take every opportunity to show and spread diversity.
6. No it has not been achieved and as long as we use social media to spread hate and discontent it will be hard to achieve.
7. Make decisions wherein all peoples are treated equally. Find a common goal that all council members can support that encourage the City to lead by example.
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