Candidates running in contested races in Asotin and Nez Perce counties showcased their platforms Thursday morning at a Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston.

The private event was divided into two rooms for the Washington and Idaho contenders. Chamber President Kristen Kemak said a public forum will be conducted online prior to the Nov. 3 election to give voters an opportunity to meet the candidates.

On the Washington side, Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, said she wants to continue advocating for the relevancy of small towns in the 9th District by promoting broadband expansion, healthy forests and accountability in state government. Dye changed a flat tire on the way to the event, but arrived in time to be the first speaker.

Brad Gary, executive communications manager at the University of Idaho, said he’s running for Asotin County commissioner to bring a fresh perspective to the board and improve community involvement by enhancing the county website and its social media presence. He is challenging incumbent Brian Shinn for the District No. 1 seat.

“We have to find ways to get our message out there because the methods of the past just aren’t as fruitful as they once were,” Gary said. “The list of vacant volunteer board and commission seats at the county has grown from 19 to 25 since April. The vacant seats are listed on every agenda, but they aren’t being filled. I think most county residents don’t even know they exist.”

Gary said he’s spent almost two decades around state and local government, first as a journalist and currently as a communications professional working for the state of Idaho.

“I like diving into the weeds of policy,” Gary said. “I’ve gotten good at thinking both strategically and comprehensively about issues like budgets, zoning, growth and community development. ... I don’t have any conflicts of interest and will be quick to recuse myself if one comes up. That sort of nuanced thinking, the ability to consider all the different shades of gray, is what’s needed in an elected official.”

Shinn said Asotin County officials are dealing with “challenging and unusual” times. He and the other two commissioners are serving on at least 13 committees, as well as the county’s public health board, which has been dealing with COVID-19 since March.

“We’ve never had a pandemic like this in my lifetime, and we’ve never shut down the economy like this,” Shinn said. “We are doing our best to bring our county back from a total shutdown and to do it safely.”

Shinn said he’s involved in the 2020 census complete count effort and encouraged everyone to fill out their forms. Every person not counted costs the county more than $2,000 a year for a decade, he said.

He also touted the success of the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association, saying local businesses have been greatly assisted by grants during the pandemic, thanks to the organization and its leader, Dawn Smith.

When it comes to the coronavirus, Shinn said he and the other commissioners have lobbied “long and hard” to get businesses open and for more local control. Asotin County is doing all it can to reach the next stage of reopening, he said.

Shinn also thanked Dye for securing $600,000 from the state to help offset the county’s court costs after Superior Court Judge Scott Gallina left the bench. Visiting judges have been filling the position as Gallina awaits a trial date on sexual misconduct charges.

“I bring leadership and management experience to helping Asotin County through these challenging and unusual times,” Shinn told the gathering. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’d like to keep doing it.”

Mike Henze, who is challenging incumbent Commissioner Chris Seubert for the District No. 2 position, said he wants to improve technology, economic development and housing through “creative and innovative” means. Henze is working on a four-phase plan that he believes will generate much-needed revenue on county-owned land near Sixth Avenue in Clarkston.

“We’ll see that plan through,” Henze told those in attendance.

Henze has experience as a small-business owner and working for corporations. He graduated from Finley High School in a class of 41 students, and went on to get a business degree from Whitworth University. He has lived in the Heights for three years, but visited the area on a regular basis for two decades to fish and golf. Henze said the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is unique and could be an even bigger draw, if officials take advantage of the tourism and development opportunities.

In the race for Asotin County Superior Court judge, Clarkston attorney Brooke Burns said she is passionate about the law and will provide consistent rulings, compassion, professionalism in the courtroom and more efficiency. She hopes to tackle the backlog of cases in the three-county district, and promised to look at the evidence and apply the law in every case.

Burns, who is the daughter of Shinn, has been appointed to preside over cases as a court commissioner, but said the title has caused some confusion in the community. A court commissioner is not connected to the Asotin County board of commissioners, she said.

When asked about her greatest strength and weakness, Burns said she is a “people person” who is relatable, and her weakness is “maybe I’m too nice.”

Judge Scott Marinella, who is also running for the Superior Court position, said he has 36 years experience in Asotin, Garfield and Columbia counties. He wants to improve communication between the three courts and make the system more efficient. For example, a few people in Asotin County have been held in custody for two years while they await trials, and that is “unacceptable,” Marinella said.

His decision to run was based on his longtime career as an attorney and a natural progression. Marinella, who is currently serving as a District Court judge in Columbia County, said he has the knowledge to step up to the Superior Court position and no conflicts of interest. He wants to restore professionalism and decorum to the court.

“I don’t think being born and raised in the valley is necessary to obtain a vote,” Marinella said. “I’m the only sitting judge in this race.”

When asked about his weakness, Marinella said he’s a bit frustrated over the lack of civility in the court system. Some attorneys don’t seem to care about the court schedule, and he would encourage them to show up prepared and ready to go.

In a separate room, candidates from Nez Perce County outlined their campaigns during the same time. More detailed profiles of the people running in contested races will be published in the Lewiston Tribune prior to the election.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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