Event aims to increase voting; ‘nonpartisan’ questioned

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COEUR d’ALENE — An ambitious and fun voter registration drive is set to take place at City Park from 4-8 p.m. Sept. 15. The inaugural Civic Action Festival, led by members of the newly formed Civic Engagement Alliance, intends to bring local voters into contact with issues and candidates on this year’s ballot. The nonpartisan event aspires to increase voter turnout this Nov. 6, said organizer Jessica Mahuron.

Activities include live music, food trucks, rock painting, information booths, and issues panels with local and state candidates. Mahuron said low voter turnout in November 2016 inspired her to do something to educate and drive voters to the polls in future elections.

“Elections belong to those who participate,” she said.

Early this summer she established the nonpartisan Civic Engagement Alliance and began organizing the event. Though she and her fellow CEA organizers are active on behalf of progressive candidates, Mahuron said she’s willing to have anybody and everybody participate regardless of party affiliation. She said she sent out email invitations to candidates across party lines, with a focus on local state legislative campaigns.

With the exception of Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress W. Scott Howard and independent county clerk candidate Dan Gookin, however, as of Aug. 23 only Democrats and progressives had confirmed their participation. The lone Republican mentioned in Mahuron’s Aug. 23 press release was Sen. Mary Souza, who declined due to a prior commitment.

As of Thursday, registered participants included: volunteers for the Paulette Jordan for Governor campaign, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Kristin Collum, Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress Cristina McNeil, Democratic state legislative nominees Rebecca Schroeder, Dan Hanks, Shem Hanks, and Cory Jane English, Democratic nominee for county commissioner Ruben Miranda, Coeur d’Alene City Council member Dan English, Kootenai County Democrats, Idaho Democratic Party, North Idaho Pride Alliance, Secular America Votes, T.O.C. Diversity Resource, Reclaim Idaho, North Idaho NOW, Moms Demand Action, Idahoans for Healthcare, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Coeur d’Alene Education Partnership, Kootenai County League of Women Voters, the Gray Panthers, and the Coeur d’Alene High School-based H.O.P.E. Human Rights club. The ACLU of Idaho has been contacted as well, Mahuron said.

“Respectful civic discourse, focus on issues and education (rather than party) and tolerance for different views are encouraged,” Mahuron said.

However, many Republican candidates said they had not heard about the event, or seen an invitation, prior to being contacted by The Press this week.

After being contacted by The Press, the Brad Little for Governor campaign registered to have a booth at the festival, Mahuron said. Lieutenant governor candidate Janice McGeachin had not heard of the event prior to being contacted by The Press on Monday, and was already committed to another event. State legislative candidate John Green, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee vice chairman Don Bradway, and Idaho Republican Party communications director Mary Strow each said they had not heard of the event prior to being contacted by The Press.

KCRCC chairman Brent Regan said he had neither heard of the event nor received an invitation prior to being contacted by The Press on Monday. However, he said he was interested and would bring it up at the KCRCC meeting Tuesday night.

“There’s no history of thumbing the nose” at such events, he pointed out. For example, he said, he attended the nonpartisan Donkephant event in May.

On Wednesday, Regan explained that he and the other KCRCC officers still had not received an invitation.

“I would have been happy to make the announcement myself if asked or invited,” Regan said.

Republican candidate Jim Addis said he had received an invitation earlier in the summer, but will be out of state for the wedding of his best friend’s daughter.

“I’ve known the family for 35 years, long before she was born, and am not going to miss her wedding. Hopefully another event will come up in the future,” Addis said.

County commissioner candidate Leslie Duncan said she also had already committed to attend a wedding that day.

Mahuron said she got candidate contact information from the Idaho Secretary of State’s website and kept track of the dates she sent them invitations. She put responsibility on the candidates if they did not see or receive the invitations.

“Part of a campaign is being on top of your email and looking for opportunities,” said Mahuron. However, she added, “I would love to have everybody and anybody.”

After learning about the event from The Press this week, Jim Brannon said he didn’t plan to go because the issues addressed by panelists are not related to his position as county clerk. He also questioned the idea of paying for a booth at a voter registration drive.

“I don’t generally pay to tell my story,” Brannon said. He supported the idea of getting more people registered to vote, however.

The event charges $35 per booth, which Mahuron said will be used to pay for the park permit fee, plus actual expenses such as live music. Mahuron said she had set a goal of $1,000 to pay for the event.

If she raises more than $1,000, the surplus may go to pay for a scholarship for local student organizer Ashley Romanowski, now a student at North Idaho College. Romanowski was one of the organizers at Coeur d’Alene High School’s student walkout last spring and has been instrumental in organizing the festival, said Mahuron. Mahuron said she was near that $1,000 goal and planned to solicit funds at the event.

Along with Republican regional chair Bjorn Handeen, Brannon questioned the notion that the “nonpartisan” event would be evenhanded toward conservatives. Since moving here in 1991, Brannon said he has observed that “When somebody puts ‘nonpartisan’ to describe an event it is generally more leaning toward the left. That’s just the way it is.”

He added, “Quite honestly I believe that everything with respect to policies is somewhat partisan. It tells how you think, how you will act, and it is your belief system.”

Handeen agreed, saying the event “is billed as ‘nonpartisan’ but it doesn’t take a Google machine to know that term is just a code word for ‘progressive.’ What kind of ‘civic action’ are they promoting, anyway? I encourage festival-goers to ask themselves: are these people interested in conserving Western Civilization, or do they want to tear it down?”

Handeen proposed that locals should create a “Civic Reaction Festival” in contrast to the Sept. 15 CAF.

Rep. Paul Amador said he wasn’t concerned about the event’s origins, and plans to attend.

“As the elected State Representative for District 4 it is my goal to interact with and listen to as many of my constituents as possible, irrespective of if they are a Republican, Democrat, or independent,” he said. “Hearing my constituents’ concerns, thoughts, and ideas is the only way I can better inform my decision-making as their representative in Boise.”

The event coincides with the 2018 Inland Northwest Freedom Fest in Cocolalla. Local pastor Tim Remington of the Altar Church will speak at the Sept. 14-15 event, which aims to spread God’s Word and encourage patriotism, according to the event website.

Mahuron said registration is open until the end of the day this Saturday. To learn more about the event, go to: bit.ly/CivActFest

To register a booth or become a sponsor, contact Mahuron at 360-359-2668, cdavoterguide@gmail.com, or go to: https://bit.ly/2Pjvf7a

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