COEUR d'ALENE - Richard Mack felt apprehensive about coming to Coeur d'Alene.
Speaking moments before he was to take the stage as the controversial keynote speaker during the Republican party's primary fundraiser, Mack said he never felt as unwelcome as he did before coming to Coeur d'Alene.
"This has never happened to me before," the Republican candidate in Texas for the U.S. House of Representatives told The Press about the decision by the local party to bar him from speaking.
But the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee re-invited Mack to speak at its Lincoln Day Dinner and Mack said he was glad to accept it - again.
"After I saw the crowd and talked to the people I felt good," he said. "I guess I didn't hurt attendance any."
Approximately 400 people attended the dinner Saturday at The Coeur d'Alene Resort, around the normal amount the event brings in, organizers said. Mack's speaking didn't prompt a staged walkout or organized protest either. Rather, the former Democratic sheriff in Arizona and one-time Libertarian-candidate preached that the Republican party should adhere to the U.S. Constitution.
"(I find it) deplorable at times that those of us who quote the founding fathers and the Constitution are labeled as racist and extremist and bigots," he said. "I was raised in a home where racism and bigotry were absolutely forbidden. That's not who I am and never have been. My mom taught me to stand for what is right. And that is also something Abraham Lincoln said. He said 'put your feet in the right place and then stand firm.'
"No matter where I've been, no matter what party I've belong to, my feet have always been firmly on American soil, on American ideals and fully and entirely in support of the United States Constitution. I will never waver from that."
Prior to Mack's arrival, the KCRCC had voted to rescind its invitation based on Mack's past, which included his stance that he's against the drug war, which he called a failed endeavor. Some members had said he didn't represent the views of the Republican party. But the vote was overturned by the party leaders after an allegedly illegal proxy vote was included in the original vote count.
The back and forth didn't dissuade hundreds who turned out to support the dinner.
"I really don't think there should be any controversy. He's not running for office as far as our county goes," said Brad Salie, precinct committeeman from Rathdrum. "He's here to speak on conservative issues."
Those issues included gun rights, about which Mack recently wrote a book, controlling the federal deficit and the intrusion of federal government on personal lives.
Mack, who successfully sued the United States government, said that the federal government is a greater threat to the Constitution than terrorism.
"We are the generation that will decide, are we going to continue as a Constitutional Republic, or are we going to continue to compromise freedom for supposed security that we already know will never happen," he said.
Mack's words were met with applause. Attendees included dozens of elected state, county and municipal representatives as well as 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, who echoed some of Mack's stances during his own speech.
Tightening an even harder fiscal line on government spending is paramount in getting America running again. To do that, Labrador said, Republicans need to be elected. And to get elected, Republicans need to stand together.
"If you don't support a nominee, just keep your mouth shut," Labrador said. "Let's stop the fighting and let's start defeating Democrats."