GRANGEVILLE — The tricky part about being Idaho County sheriff is balancing the different jurisdictions within the county that include the state and federal governments that hold the lion’s share of property.
The two candidates for this year’s sheriff’s race — Republican Doug Ulmer, 53, and independent Casey Zechmann, 44 — have distinctly different ideas about how to work with other law enforcement agencies.
“As sheriff my plan is to secure our freedoms by opposing those that try to take our freedoms,” Zechmann said in a recent social media post.
“As sheriff I will not let the federal government come into this county and take those freedoms that are secured by the Constitution.”
For example Zechmann pointed to the order last spring by Idaho Gov. Brad Little that shuttered nonessential businesses, churches and schools because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Zechmann said Little “overstepped that boundary” by selecting which businesses should be closed and which could remain open.
“This is not the way of America, and that order is a violation of our rights that I will not enforce,” Zechmann said. “I am anti- any government that comes in here that tries to take away our rights. I’m very pro-life, I’m a Christian, and we have freedoms given to us by God. (Freedoms) don’t get taken away all at once. They get taken away piece by piece.”
At the time of the shutdown, Ulmer was a lieutenant with the sheriff’s office — he resigned this summer after beating the current Sheriff Doug Giddings in the May Republican primary election.
Ulmer said he, also, had some problems with the selectiveness of which businesses had to close and which could remain open.
He did not agree with Giddings’ decision to close the county driver’s license office before the county commissioners acted, but “my opinion is, I try to follow the guidelines as best I could. (As a deputy out in the community) I had the ability to spread (the virus) throughout the county and I felt it was my responsibility not to be the person to spread the disease.”
The state’s rule about shutdowns didn’t make sense, Ulmer said. A business that sold trinkets as well as gasoline could stay open while a business that sold trinkets alone had to close.
“But I also believe that we didn’t know (much about the disease) at the time. At the beginning, was it like polio? We had to be careful of that. I think the people in Idaho County acted responsibly. They did the right things at the right time and they didn’t have to have someone tell them what to do. They took that on themselves.”
But as far as working with other law enforcement agencies, Ulmer said it has to be a collaborative effort. And people in Idaho County must be aware of the financial benefits of having federal and state agencies located within the county.
“When fires come through,” Ulmer said, “there’s millions and millions of dollars spent to fight fires. That’s all federal dollars and everybody’s OK with taking federal money to fight forest fires.
“I would never cross-deputize the federal government or other agencies but I believe you have to work together.”
Zechmann, who is married and has seven children, moved to Idaho County three years ago from Canyon County, where he served in a number of capacities with the sheriff’s office, particularly in drug and crime intervention. He currently works as the occupation foreman at Gortsema Auto Body in Grangeville.
He moved to Idaho County, he said, because “I was looking for a better place to live. It’s hard to find property in Caldwell (the county seat of Canyon County) and I wanted to be self-sustaining and live in a place with restricted planning and zoning.”
Zechmann was impressed with Idaho County’s lack of land-use restrictions and said it fits his notion of what America is about.
“Each piece (of freedom) that we give up gets accepted as the new norm,” Zechmann said. “I don’t want Idaho County to be the new norm. I like people, especially the federal government, being governed by the people and for the people, and I feel like there’s been so much politics into this, we’re losing our freedoms. I fear for our future and I will fight for it. There’s right and wrong and sometimes it ain’t so black and white. We still have it here and why give it up? We shouldn’t have to give it up.
“What I’m saying is, I want to be the sheriff that I’m not afraid to stand up for correct principles or against those who try to take away freedoms.”
Ulmer, who is married and has three grown children, is a lifelong resident of the county and spent 31½ years with the sheriff’s office as a lieutenant and patrol deputy. He believes he has a strong sense of what the problems are in Idaho County and how to approach resolving them.
“This is home and I like being here and I like the way we live,” Ulmer said. “I believe I have a lot to offer for the people of Idaho County and I think if we work together, we can be successful in eliminating the problems. I want this to be the safest place possible to live in. That’s my goal.”
Some of the concerns he hears from people as he travels around the county include bringing in local folks who are familiar with the terrain to help with search and rescue operations.
“When I started in 1989, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Posse was a big organization and helped locate a lot of people,” Ulmer said.
The organization has dwindled in recent years “and I think it’s time to bring them back into the fold. They’re willing to help and if we can utilize those people to get them on the ground immediately, we will hopefully find missing people and get them to where they belong.”
Ulmer said people are also highly concerned about drug enforcement and the sheriff’s office needs to be immediately responsive when a call reporting drug activity comes in.
Employee retention is another issue Ulmer hopes to improve.
“When we hire somebody, by the time they go through field training and (Peace Officers Standards and Training) and get on the road — by the time you get them through this process, you have $70,000 to $100,000 invested,” Ulmer said.
Then, when the new trainee leaves for another agency, that person takes with them Idaho County’s investment in their education.
“What can we do to make this a better place to work?” he said. “I think it’s important that we get back to community policing, just getting out of your car and getting to know people. It’s just kind of the way I want to get back to it.”
Hedberg may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 983-2326.