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Blaine County Democrats Meet the Candidates
Monday, May 9, 2022


Wood River Valley resident Chantel Westerman didn’t mince words as she addressed the 125 people who purchased tickets to the Clint Stennett Social Friday night.

“We live in a world that’s dark, filled with hatred—horrible hatred. And you did the most important thing you could do—you showed up,” she told those gathered at The Argyros.

“You could have gone to dinner tonight, you could have watched Netflix, but you are proud Democrats,” she added. “You are, as Barack Obama said, the guardian of hope and change and continuation of true democracy in this country. And, unfortunately, that’s what we’re losing now.”

Blaine County Democrats used this year’s Clint Stennett Social to bid adieu to District 26’s retiring legislators--Sen Michelle Stennett and Rep. Sally Toone. And Karen Bliss, chair of the Blaine County Democrats, reminded those present that the district has had 56 years of Democrats in the district’s senate seat dating back to John Peavey and including Clint and Michelle Stennett.

The organization also used the evening to introduce Democrats candidates running in the May 17 primary. Among them, Shelby Rognstad a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor whose last name sounds like Linda Rondstadt’s but is spelled differently.

Democratic candidates haven’t gotten much press this year given the heated races among Republicans vying to run for governor and other seats next fall. Here’s how they introduced themselves Friday night:

  • U.S. Senate—Ben Pursley is a fifth-generation Idahoan from a family of miners and loggers in the Panhandle. His father once got 47 percent of the vote running against Steve Symms. A schoolteacher, commercial real estate investor and developer, Pursley touted his love of the outdoors and said he would fight to help middle-class Americans, create an education system that benefits future generations, promote greater voting access and unify the country’s political divides.

    David Roth says he has two children so he understands the challenges of families in Idaho. He also helped bring the first low-income housing cooperative to Idaho Falls. “Our party is the party of progress.”

  • U.S. HOUSE—First District candidate Kaylee Peterson is a sixth-generation Idahoan who lives on land her great-great-great grandparents homesteaded in the Eagle foothills.President of the College of Western Idaho’s debate team, she is finishing a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice and serves as Chief of Staff for the Associated Students of CWI, on the College Council Executive Board and on the Idaho Students Association’s Legislative Council. She also organizes volunteers for the Idaho Office on Refugees.

    Peterson says Congressman Russ Fulcher is an extremist who has consistently voted against the interests of Idahoans and for his PAC donors, as demonstrated by his opposition to the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Bill.

    Second District candidate Wendy Norman is a first-grade teacher in Rigby who considers herself a centrist but filed to run as a Democrat because she believes Congressman Mike Simpson has moved too far to the right, voting against the American Rescue Plan and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

  • GOVERNOR—Shelby Rognstad has served as mayor of Sandpoint for the past six years and was City Council president before that. A fourth-generation Idahoan, he was born in Lewiston and graduated from the University of Idaho. He has started a bookstore, restaurant, music venue and real estate company. Funding Idaho’s schools and protecting public lands is high on his agenda.

    He says he will fight for women’s choice and women’s rights and against extremism. “We need to restore our system of checks and balances,” he said.

    Stephen Heidt is a fourth-generation Idahoan who received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations and Diplomacy from BYU Provo and a history and teaching certification from Eastern Washington University. He also served eight years in the U.S. Army National Guard. He has worked the last 15 years at the Idaho Penitentiary and is pushing for criminal justice reform and cannabis decriminalization.

  • LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR—Terri Pickens Manweiler is a fourth-generation Idahoan who said herforay into politics was sealed when she met Clint Stennett as a grade schooler. “What a dynamic man, and his beautiful wife is equally dynamic. She asked: How can we get stuff done? And right now we need to get stuff done,” she said as she outlined her plan to get better funding for education and rural school districts, as well as higher teacher salaries.
  • SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION—Terry Gilbert started teaching career in Marsing, going on to become regional director for the Idaho Education Association and president of the Idaho Communications Association. Topping his agenda is support for a $300 million initiative for Idaho schools
  • DISTRICT 26 STATE SENATE--Retired Wood River Fire and Rescue Capt. Ron Taylor grew up in a family of seven children. That instilled in him what it means to be a public servant, he said. He’s keen to address water and education issues, among other things.
  • DISTRICT 26 HOUSE--Karma Fitzgerald is running for retiring Rep. Sally Toone’s seat. A journalist by trade, she graduated from the University of Idaho and campaigned for Richard Stallings and John Evans as a student. She calls herself a community builder and a community leader who gets things done. Among the things she has done is create a preschool and afterschool program in Shoshone. She also has worked hard for small businesses.

    Ned Burns was appointed by Gov. Brad Little to the seat occupied by Muffy Davis when Davis resigned to become a Blaine County commissioner. Burns told attendees that he shudders to see what Idahoans’ rights will look like if Democrats lose any ground in the legislature. He noted that a Mississippi legislator has drafted a bill that would charge any woman having an abortion with murder and said there are those in Idaho who also are bent on legislation that would assault people’s rights.

    Burns said he will push to support strong, fully funded public schools, keep public lands in public hands, modernize the delivery system to ensure everyone gets their share of water for years to come and invest in updated infrastructure for roads, bridges and clean water.


Stephen McDougall Graham, who was appointed county clerk by the County Commissioners in 2021, noted that he had secured millions of grant dollars for Blaine County, including funding for the expansion of broadband internet in Picabo and Carey, while serving as the county’s Grants and Procurement specialist. He has tripled the number of bilingual staff in his department and is launching a web-based dashboard that will offer citizens a transparent way to understand the county’s finances and services supported by the property tax. “It has been the honor of my life to serve in this capacity,” he added.

Gretchen Stinnett said she is a fifth-generation Idahoan who was born and raised in the Wood River Valley and has 25 years of audit and budget experience. She also volunteers with the Kiwanis Club. She said she has looked forward to the day when she might run for office ever since Clint Stennett visited her fifth-grade classroom.


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