Friday, July 11, 2008

And then there were three

Blaine Democrats select candidates to replace retiring commissioner Sarah Michael

Express Staff Writer

Jon Thorson

Blaine County Democratic Party officials opted for youth and vigor over age and experience Tuesday night. The party chose three candidates to replace outgoing Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael, who vacated her District 3 seat on July 1.

Betty Murphy, chairwoman of Blaine County Democratic Party, announced that north valley residents Adam Bohrer, 24, Angenie McCleary, 31, and Jon Thorson, former Mayor of Sun Valley, and currently a member of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, were the party selections.

Members of the Blaine County Democratic Party's precinct committee conducted the interviews during the Tuesday night meeting. The three names now go to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for a final decision.

Not selected during the process were Len Harlig, Debra Kronenberg, Kingsley Murphy, Suzanne Orb, Nils Ribi and Alan Reynolds.

Although young, Bohrer and McCleary's level of experience seemed to impress the precinct committee members.

Holding a masters in social work from the University of Washington, McCleary has spent the past year working as the social worker at the Wood River Middle School. Among other things, she has also served on the local Community Drug Coalition, St. Luke's Center for Community Health Advisory Council, Safe and Drug Free Schools Committee and the YAK! Blaine County Youth Partnership, which she founded.

McCleary also served as a graduate intern for Washington State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, Chair of the Human Services Committee. In that capacity, she helped create and pass legislation establishing a comprehensive children's mental health system in Washington.

During an interview Wednesday, McCleary said there are tradeoffs between choosing a person like Thorson with his elected experience, and a person like herself with a different type of public policy experience.

"I don't think it's going to be an obvious choice," she said.

For his part, Bohrer also seems to have unique governmental experience for someone so young. This includes an internship with the U.S. State Department at NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and work in China where he had to speak in Mandarin to be able to converse with locals.

"I've had a lot of responsibility before," he said. "If I can do that I'm pretty confident I can handle most technical issues in the county."

Of course, how McCleary and Bohrer will stack up against Thorson's resume in the eyes of Gov. Otter remains to be seen.

During his presentation, Thorson highlighted his work as mayor to bring public transportation to the north valley, begin planning for development in the contentious McHanville area south of Ketchum and Sun Valley and keep a hospital in the Wood River Valley.

The issue of whether the candidates would consider running again for another term once their term expires in 2011 was an important consideration for the committee.

To this, Thorson seemed as certain as any candidate.

"If I can see that I am effective, and that I enjoy it like I did in Sun Valley, I would definitely run again," he said.

The precinct committee members' selection was made after a lengthy question-and-answer session where they listened to public testimony from each of the nine candidates, each of whom were required to send in a letter of interest to the Blaine County Democratic Party by July 7.

After that process was over, the precinct committee adjourned to meet in private with Blaine County Commissioners Tom Bowman and Larry Schoen, as well as Sarah Michael. The committee members asked the commissioners for input to help them make their decision, Murphy said Thursday.

"They (Bowman and Schoen) have to work with the new commissioner," she said.

That the committee only needed to vote once to arrive at their decision once they had sent the commissioners out of the room is not reflective of the candidates' qualifications, Murphy said.

"We would have been happy with any of the candidates," she said. "They were all excellent."

Asked how she thinks local residents will view the selection of two younger candidates that have no experience as elected officials, Murphy pointed out that neither did Michael, who was reelected by county voters twice.

"Sarah Michael was a community activist and a volunteer before she ever ran for office," she said.

In addition to Murphy, the members of the Blaine County Democratic Party's precinct committee who chose the three names were Jima Rice, Christopher Simms, Bea Longley, Janie Davidson, Nancy Whiton, Tammy Eaton and Helen Stone.

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