Jim Brannon: Long way from East St. Louis

IN PERSON

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Jim Brannon is the Kootenai County Clerk.

COEUR d'ALENE - Jim Brannon became the first person in his family to go to college, and when he graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1975 with a degree in communications, he knew his parents were proud.

Jay and Jean Brannon weren't wealthy, but they always made sure there was food to eat and their son had a safe and stable home in East St. Louis, Ill., where Brannon was born.

"My parents, Jay and Jean Brannon, were married 62 years this past November," Brannon said this week. "I lost my father when he passed away last November and my mom lost the love of her life."

Growing up, Brannon was encouraged by his parents to be positive even when life didn't go exactly as he planned - advice that would serve him well at the start of his political career.

"They instructed me to dedicate myself to the tasks at hand, to be open to opportunities presented and to always try to better myself," Brannon said.

He also learned that stability is important to allow people to develop new and improved ideas, something he considers now in his role as Kootenai County's elected clerk, overseeing five county departments and roughly 90 employees.

East St. Louis has a reputation as a rough place with a lot of unemployment, poverty and a high violent crime rate. How did that city shape your family and affect the person you have become?

The year that I started grade school, East St. Louis was an All-America City and two years later was the Centennial celebration. My parents had jobs, I played baseball and rode my bike everywhere.

It was a great small town of about 80,000 people and a wonderful place to grow up.

Underneath the surface, however, the city coffers were nearly empty, jobs were being lost and businesses were leaving in droves.

Finally the tax base was gone, services declined and there was no money to run the city.

As a kid, I didn't understand political machines or cash payments for votes, I just knew that many of my friends and neighbors were moving.

What would high school friends remember about you? What do you remember most about the 1960s?

I believe that my high school friends would remember me as a fighter and as a tough competitor. What I most remember about the 1960s in St. Clair County, Illinois, was not peace and love, but snipers and discontent.

Did college do anything to form your political beliefs or was it your parents and your roots in East St. Louis?

While in college, I had regular on-air shifts at a couple of different local radio stations playing gospel music.

Management at each of these two stations had traditional Christian conservative beliefs. This was my first experience where political beliefs were openly discussed.

What specifically makes you a Republican? What life experience, events or ideas formed that?

Representatives of the people should be honorable and they should be trustworthy. To see what happened to my hometown was heartbreaking and I feel this life experience did contribute to me becoming a Republican.

I do align with traditional business values of the Republican Party, such as less government regulation, lower taxes and that the free market should set the wage scales.

What led you to North Idaho in 1991? What has kept you here?

With the acquisition of the First National Bank of North Idaho, the Boise bank that I was working for felt that they would have enough deposits to establish a trust office in Coeur d'Alene.

I requested and received this transfer. My wife and I stay here because we love and respect the natural beauty of the area. The people of North Idaho are hard working, honest, have very strong family values and stay true to their ideals.

When you arrived in North Idaho did you envision getting into politics? How did you establish a political foundation?

While serving as a Kootenai County Republican Central Committeeman, several members approached me regarding a run for Coeur d'Alene City Council in 2009.

One of the newly formed Republican activist groups actively supported my campaign and helped organize events and volunteers.

What did that messy election, with a very narrow loss and a lawsuit alleging various voting irregularities, teach you?

I learned a substantial amount of Idaho code section 34 and I learned about District Court operations. I also learned that regardless of the outcome of the litigation, that I wanted to serve my fellow citizens.

You were appointed to the county clerk's office for a year and then you sought and won a full term in last year's elections. How are you and the clerk's office a good fit?

I am a good fit because real leadership matters. Allowing the members of our clerk's team the ability to think of new and better ways of completing our tasks can affect every citizen of Kootenai County in a positive fashion.

Who are your closest political friends or allies in Kootenai County? How do you influence each other? What have you learned from them?

As an elected official representing all of Kootenai County, it is my job to do my best and fairly represent all of the citizens not just those whose political beliefs are in perfect alignment with mine.

Most of the people who work for the county are dedicated public servants and, yes, I have a number of political friends and allies in the county.

To me, the best way to accomplish the goal of excellent customer service is to listen to ideas with an open mind and to make changes based on efficiency, not ideology.

You have one of the most important political offices in the county. Even though you've only just begun your first full term, has it ever crossed your mind to someday run for office at the state level? Or would you consider another run for a seat on the city council or as mayor?

As this term of office is just beginning, thinking about future political plans is not on my mind. My focus is to be fair and do the best job that I can.

What sort of mark do you see yourself making on the county's government? How do you want the many people who work under you to see you as a manager?

In my role as county clerk, I will work to make your government accountable, efficient and transparent.

Personal integrity and respect for the law is extremely important to me as is my promise to serve all of Kootenai County.

I will continue to gather perspective from varied sources and surround myself with people who will make moral and ethical decisions.

I would like to be seen as a leader who offers genuine inspiration and clear guidance to our team.

You have said your wife, Christine, is the person who most influenced your life.

My wife has influenced me greatly in so many different ways.

She always displays a grace and calm demeanor through the challenges that we have encountered in our life together. She is the person who instilled a quiet confidence in me that I could succeed. The false bravado that I relied on for years has been replaced with sincere caring, honesty and respect for others.

Other than watching sports like college basketball games during March Madness, what else keeps you busy outside work?

Outside of work, I enjoy church activities, spectator sports, live music and theater.

My wife and I have recently moved to within three-quarters of a mile of the county administration building, and renovating our home is taking up a considerable amount of our free time.

Her skills in designing and decorating make it feel more like home every day and when the tasks are completed, we certainly don't have very far to go for an excellent dinner and fine bottle of wine.

You've had jobs in the private sector. What would you be doing now if you were not the county's clerk? What do you look for in a job that makes it satisfying?

My career in financial services was rewarding. When goals became reality for families, that brought me considerable joy and a feeling that what I was doing made a difference in their lives.

For more than three years you were the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho, an organization that helps needy families to build affordable housing.

I truly enjoy charitable work and believe that if I were not the Kootenai County clerk, I would be using my communication ability and skills working with numbers to help people in need.

Doing something that interests me provides great personal satisfaction and the challenge of performing to my own high standard serves as a primary motivation in my daily life.

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