The debate over whether libraries or parents should be responsible for what children read has not been limited to the statehouse. It’s made it into local library trustee elections, with many taking place across Idaho this Tuesday. Mike Weland, publisher of 9B News, joined Logan Finney this week to break down the library district election in Boundary County and what it can tell us about the debate over library materials across the rest of the state.
READ: Back at the Boundary County Library
Logan Finney, Idaho Reports: Joining me this week is Mike Weland, publisher of 9B News, to discuss the Boundary County Library trustee elections. Mike, thanks for joining us.
Mike Weland, 9B News: Appreciate you having me, thank you.
IR: The Boundary County Library District was one of many library districts across Idaho with trustees on the ballot this week. Can you tell me about the candidates who were up for those two seats in Boundary County and what the differences were between them?
Weland: There were four candidates – probably the first time in, oh goodness, 10 or 15 years we’ve had a contested library race – but we had two positions available, Zone 3and Zone 5. Both incumbents ran and they were both challenged. The incumbents were Aaron Bohachek and Lee Colson. Bohachek faced a gentleman named Lewis Clark, and challenging Colson was Mary-Esther Wilson.
Bohachek and Colson are both from here. Not lifetime members, but they’ve been here a long time and they fit into the community. We’ve got kind of a strong Redoubt group up here – people who have come in and are trying to make us what they envision as correct – and Clark and Wilson were among those. They ran advertisements as the godly candidates. Their focus was getting porn out of the library. The other two, they were both incumbents so they have gone through the process.
When people started talking about porn in the library – it was just an issue that came up a couple of years ago, maybe a year ago even – but they went through and they redid the policy on what they can accept into the library, as far as pornography and stuff like that. We’ve never had pornography in the library. There’s four books now being considered through the process that the library has, to where if somebody thinks there’s porn in the library they fill out a form, hand it in, then the trustees read the books.
We’ve got a meeting coming up Thursday night to consider the first three book challenges that have ever been filed in Boundary County. So that’s on the agenda for tomorrow night. And then there’s a fourth book, and I can’t remember the name right off the top of my head, but that one the board members are reading right now and then they’ll make a decision whether to keep it or take it off the shelves or move it to a different part of the library.
So people are starting to use the process now. It’s been in place forever, but nobody’s ever used it before until now. So that’s something new for the library.
IR: I spent some time in Bonners Ferry last fall, in September of 2022. I spoke with Kimber Glidden, the former library director up there. When I talked to her, she had announced her resignation and was just about to leave. With that in mind, what has happened since late 2022? Have there been any major updates as far as the day to day operation of the library?
Weland: Most of the library staff have quit along with Kimber. A few stayed. We did get a new director – she was a volunteer and she’s worked there with the library for over 20 years. She stayed after Kimber left, and they just about two months ago named her as the new director. But the board has taken a much more active role in the day-to-day operations. So, she has the board to work with now. It used to be the board was kind of hands off and let the director run things, and they found out they can’t do that. So that’s another advance the board has made.
IR: When I talked with the former director, she said that the the issues in the community arose when she said that she would be willing to get certain materials on interlibrary loan for patrons. The way she portrayed it was that it wasn’t even library materials in Bonners Ferry that people were upset about. Is that the same type of criticism that the challenger candidates were making against the incumbents? Were they criticizing the library’s existing policies and content?
Weland: With the new policy written, the main complaint that Mary-Esther Wilson had was Lee Colson had appeared on CNN when the brouhaha was going on, and he echoed Kimber’s assessment that if people want a book, if it’s not in the library program, we’re going to bring it in [on loan for them]. The right wing took umbrage with that, and considered that that he was promoting pornography, and a pedophile wanting to groom, and the whole nine yards. We’re still getting that. I picked up a note on my post yesterday about the library, about them winning, and I’m getting posts that we’re bringing back a pedophile and, you know, just making baseless allegations like that. And people still believe it. So that is still going on.
IR: Library trustee races, like a lot of these local taxing board districts, are nonpartisan races. Is that how the campaigns went? Was this a pretty nonpartisan race? Were there local political players involved supporting one side or the other?
Weland: The Mt. Hall Community Church held a candidates forum for Clark and Wilson a couple of weeks ago. A new group that recently formed called 9B Strong – because our license plates are 9B – they backed the incumbents Bohachek and Colson. So, I don’t know if “the old traditional townspeople versus the newcomers” would be a good way to put it, but that’s pretty much the way it came down.
IR: Of course, library materials and their appropriateness for children came up a lot during our legislative session in Boise. The governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed patrons to sue if their children access inappropriate materials in the library. Did that issue come up during the campaigning? Were there references to that legislation and what is happening at the state level?
Weland: The challengers brought that up. They decried that the governor overruled it, so yeah, they they were in favor of it. The incumbents, I never heard them mention it.
IR: Now that results have come in, the two incumbents Bohachek and Colson have kept their seats. Clark and Wilson were unsuccessful in their challenges. What do you think is next for the library, as far as next steps addressing this controversy with those existing board members keeping their seats?
Weland: I think the board is going to keep hewing the path they’ve set down. We’ve still got a group – and it’s a good thing – that attends the meetings and tries to do their best to protect the children, I guess. They have that right. That’s their absolute right to be there. I think they’re starting to calm down a little bit. I think it might be resolving somewhat, because the people who’ve been screaming the loudest – I think this [election] was kind of a vindication for the incumbents and for the people that have run the library forever, that they’ve actually been doing a good job and it’s not as bad as people think.
There’s a lot of bad information going around. And it’s not local, it’s not statewide. It’s national. The last book that was challenged, the woman went into the library a half an hour before our meeting, walked to the shelf, pulled it off. She had a nationally distributed list of books that had the page number and what the nasty parts were. So she was able to take the book off the shelf, go to the meeting – she’d never read the book – she just went to the page, read out what was on that page. So it’s people all over the country that are working together to try to stir up and create problems with the local libraries. Hopefully it’s going to be settled down.
IR: Well, as we look ahead to the 2024 legislative session, we’ve heard from lawmakers that they are likely going to try some sort of library bill again. Do you think that guidance from the state down to the locals would help address the controversy over these materials, or just put more fuel on the fire?
Weland: I think just puts more fuel on the fire. These are made up issues, the woke issues I call them. It’s stuff that the radical right is – they’re creating monsters where none are, and hopefully that’ll die down. Because they’re getting defeated every time it goes to court or something like that, they’re getting turned down. It’s a futile effort on their behalf, but it’s certainly disruptive right now.
IR: The Idaho panhandle, the five northern counties, is a very conservative area. In Boundary County at the northern border, the incumbent trustees fended off those challenges and kept their seats. However, to the south in Kootenai County’s election for the Community Library Network – with similar issues, similar campaign rhetoric – the challengers ousted the incumbents and the more conservative candidates took the seats. Why do you think those kind of candidates were successful somewhere like Kootenai County when they weren’t successful in Boundary County?
Weland: The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee has pretty much been radicalized. Same in Bonner County. They are both now trying to see who can out-woke the woke, it’s crazy. Here in Boundary County, the Republican central committee has not followed along that line at all. They’ve stood their ground. They’ve stood for traditional Republican candidates. Their idea of “conservative” isn’t to be the most radical you can be, it’s a common sense conservative. That’s the way this place has always been, and, you know, I think that does a lot. When you’ve got an organization that is pushing for the radical side, you’re going to see more radicalization. I think we’re fortunate up here that we don’t have that.
IR: Alright. Mike Weland, publisher of 9B News based in Bonners Ferry, thanks so much for your time this week.
Weland: Thank you, Logan, appreciate it.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.