COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County Democrats caucus for delegates ended with a unanimous vote Saturday morning to send the 33 nominated delegates to the Idaho Democratic Party state convention in June.
More than 70 people attended the meeting in the Harding Center, a turnout that pleased many.
"I was really gratified by the number of people that showed up," said Paula Neils, chair of the Kootenai County Democratic Party. "We had a great show of strength for our party. Being an off-year election, I didn't know whether we would expect 30 or 100. I think that was a great turnout for us."
Neils presided over the meeting, which included discussions about topics that voters will be considering when they go to the polls during the May 20 primary election.
"The public lands issue is bubbling up, thanks to that guy in Nevada," Neils said. "If the state takes over public lands, we expect Republicans are going to try to sell them, and they're going to go into the hands of private people to make money off of them."
She said Idaho employment and education are critical issues as well.
"Certainly, education is just right up there," she said. "Without a good educational system, you're not going to attract good jobs, and without good jobs we can't have healthy families."
Delegate Roberta Larsen, who was born and raised in Idaho, said she is excited to be one of the representatives attending the state convention.
"I really feel that I need to contribute and do need to make changes in the state for the better of all the people," she said.
The meeting introduced Kootenai County Democrats to a few new faces, such as U.S. Senatorial candidate Nels Mitchell. Mitchell, of Boise, is a practicing lawyer with more than 30 years legal experience. He served as the enforcement director and regional trial counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission and is a part-time teacher at the University of Idaho Law School. He began his campaign two months ago and is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Risch.
"I've been enjoying campaigning. It's a lot of fun," he said. "I enjoy meeting people, listening to people, and it's an opportunity to not only travel the state but to learn more about what's important to the people of Idaho."
A father of two adult daughters, Mitchell said he thinks issues of concern to women are important.
"The person I'm running against has an abysmal record on those issues ... he does not think that birth control should be part of health insurance," Mitchell said. "You shouldn't have the Senate saying that birth control should not be part of health insurance."
Another newcomer to the political scene is 26-year-old Ryan Andrew Barone, who is seeking office with the U.S. House of Representatives. Many of the caucus attendees expressed their delight with Barone for having an interest in politics at such a young age.
"There definitely seems to be a greater number of Democrats than I think many people believe," he said. "It shows that we are gaining the momentum that we need."
One issue Barone mentioned was voter activity.
"Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, exercising your right to vote is the only way things are going to go the way that you want them to," he said.
He also said through data collection and surveys, he has found that a number of younger individuals on both sides of the political divide believe in equality and civil rights, issues he feels Idahoans are ready to face head-on.
"We need to absolutely end discrimination on every level and that's what I am standing up for," he said. "For everybody that really wants to end discrimination and assert that equality for each and every single individual, not only in Idaho, but in our nation, I am that voice."
Delegate names should be posted to www.kootenaidemocrats.org by early next week. The Idaho Democratic Party state convention will be June 20-22 in Moscow.