Bankruptcy isn’t always a campaign killer

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Dashing toward the May 2002 Republican primary, three-term state Sen. Clyde Boatright of Rathdrum appeared headed toward an easy win over little known challenger Kent Bailey.

Down the homestretch, however, someone floated the fact that Bailey had, years before, gone through bankruptcy. Some Boatright supporters asserted that disqualified Bailey from such an august position of responsibility — until an anguished Bailey explained the painful circumstances of struggling financially to keep his terminally ill wife alive.

If divulging the bankruptcy was intended as a late incendiary to harm the Bailey campaign, the strategy backfired. Though Bailey went on to serve just one term, some think he wouldn’t have won had his opponent’s camp not played the bankruptcy card, eliciting Bailey’s heart-wrenching explanation that evoked voter sympathy.

As we report a 14-year-old Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing by sheriff’s candidate Rick Whitehead, the Kent Bailey story should be kept in mind. Whitehead may have helped or hurt his cause by refusing to be interviewed or answer several questions posed to him in writing from The Press. Instead, he addressed it this way:

“My bankruptcy filing in 2005 is directly related to a divorce during the same time frame and upon advice of legal council [sic]. Both decisions difficult, not entered into lightly, and personal.”

Divorce has devastated many Americans, and its emotional and financial destruction can’t be discounted. A problem arises, though, when the person filing bankruptcy is seeking to oversee a $27 million budget funded with taxpayer dollars.

We think these circumstances warrant a better explanation.

To assure Kootenai County voters that his Chapter 7 bankruptcy was an outlier that did not accurately reflect his financial acumen, The Press asked Mr. Whitehead for a copy of his credit report, a request he denied. That’s his right. But given this choice, it’s also the voters’ right to question his fiscal acuity given his desire to hold a position of public trust that demands impeccable financial competence.

Voters won’t cast their primary ballots for more than nine months. Because every qualified Kootenai County resident will have an opportunity to weigh in on this important choice, The Press has an obligation to afford the sheriff’s race extensive coverage. This gives candidates plenty of time to address any perceived shortcomings, not just to trumpet their strengths.

Whitehead is not being singled out. The other candidates’ financial backgrounds will be subjected to the same scrutiny, and each will be given an opportunity to share her or his credit report with voters.

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