Local conservative speaks out on alleged GOP plot

COEUR D’ALENE — A woman who said the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee tried to recruit her as part of an alleged plan to infiltrate and dismantle the local Democratic Party is now speaking publicly.

The Press published in early March a recorded phone call between Kootenai County resident John Grimm and a person he identified as KCRCC Youth Chair Dan Bell.

In the call, Bell described a plan by the KCRCC to take control of the local Democratic Party by having its own candidates run for Democratic precinct captain positions.

The Press reached out to Bell by phone and email on Wednesday.

The man who answered the phone refused to identify himself, paused to check if Bell was available and then said Bell was not there.

Penelope Harries-Morris, a paralegal, told The Press in early March that Greg McKenzie approached her at a KCRCC meeting and tried to recruit her for what she called a “scheme” to infiltrate the Democratic Party.

McKenzie was elected to the North Idaho College board of trustees in 2020, after KCRCC recommended him.

“He asked if I was willing to register as a Democrat,” Morris said.

She said she was confused by the question until McKenzie explained the KCRCC’s plan to fill the local Democratic Party’s ranks with their own members. When Morris refused to participate, she said McKenzie asked if she would be willing to recruit other volunteers instead. Morris said she declined.

In an email to The Press earlier this month, McKenzie said he did not recall the conversation.

He also said he believes The Press is working with local Democrats to have Democrats change their party affiliation in order to vote in the Republican primary. Morris said on Wednesday that McKenzie’s denial didn’t surprise her. “I don’t think he thought anything was wrong with it,” she said.

Though she initially did not wish to be identified, Morris said she now feels compelled to step forward and speak about her experiences.

“I’m bowled over by this nastiness and dirtiness,” she said.

Morris, who has lived in Kootenai County for almost seven years, belongs to the Kootenai County Republican Women Federated.

But she said the local GOP doesn’t resemble the Republican Party she grew up with. Some conservatives involved in local politics are “hypnotized” by the KCRCC’s rhetoric and don’t question it, Morris said.

“They’re so mesmerized and they’re so under the thumb of the KCRCC that they have no freedom,” she said. “They just don’t know it. They’re walking the line. They’re in lock step.”

If the takeover effort succeeded, Bell said KCRCC plants would vote David J. Reilly in as party chair.

“A guy that they call racist, antisemitic, Holocaust denier,” Bell said. “That same guy would be the chair of the Kootenai Democrat Party.”

A recent Pennsylvania transplant, Reilly was condemned by the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization for his antisemitic writings and called an “antisemitic troll” by The Daily Beast.

Reilly, whose social media posts included comments that “all Jews are dangerous” and that more Americans should believe antisemitic stereotypes, ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Post Falls School Board last year.

The KCRCC recommended him as a candidate — the local GOP’s version of an endorsement — and stood by that recommendation as national criticism poured in. Reilly registered as a Democrat this month and filed for a Democratic precinct captain position.

He also joined Idaho’s gubernatorial race as a write-in candidate this week, aiming to “make Democrats conservative again.” Reilly told The Press he got the idea from Democrats who changed their party affiliation in order to vote in Idaho’s closed Republican primary races.

Idaho had an open primary system until 2011, when the Idaho GOP successfully sued the state to close the party’s primary.

Since then, some left-leaning voters have changed their party affiliation to Republican in order to vote in GOP primaries.

Laura Tenneson, a former chair of the Kootenai Democrats, is one of them. She reportedly registered as a Republican in 2020.

She told The Spokesman-Review in February she still aligned with the Democratic Party’s platform but wanted to have a say in races that are essentially decided in the Republican primary.

Kootenai Democrats chair Evan Koch said the local Democratic Party does not encourage its members to change their affiliation in order to vote in Republican primaries, though he’s aware that some Democrats make the switch. Reilly isn’t the only North Idaho candidate who recently changed his affiliation.

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad is also staging a campaign as a write-in Democratic candidate for Idaho governor, after the Idaho Secretary of State’s office determined he would not appear as an official candidate on the May 17 primary ballot.

A fourth-generation Idahoan, Rognstad said he previously registered as a Republican in order to have a voice in Bonner County’s elected leadership. He is now registered as a Democrat.

“It’s reasonable for moderates to try to find their place in the political landscape,” he said. “They have to find a voice in democracy somehow.”

Rognstad said he believes it’s fair for voters and candidates to join the political party that has the best chance to represent them. But he doesn’t believe that is what Reilly is doing.

“David Reilly seems to have a subversive agenda where he wants to disrupt and disintegrate the Democratic Party,” Rognstad said.

Reilly confirmed as much Wednesday in a phone interview with The Press.

“If the people in Kootenai County vote for us, they know what we’re going to do,” he said, referring to conservatives who changed their party affiliation in order to run in the Democratic primary. “That’s them saying, ‘We don’t want the Democrat Party operating in Kootenai County.”

Reilly said he and other crossover candidates aim to “give the people what they want.” “It’s who we are,” he said. “It’s our values.”

If elected as a precinct captain and voted in as party chair, Reilly said he would use his position to halt Democratic operations for at least two years, when the next primary election occurs, and funnel money donated to Democrats toward Republicans.

Reilly said he’d give half of the local Democratic Party’s funds to the Kootenai County Republican Women Federated, “to help get more women involved in politics.”

The remaining funds would go to the Catholic Church “as reparations for the sin of abortion.”

Reilly said any subsequent donations to the Democratic Party would be “clearly marked” as going toward conservative causes and candidates.

“It’s not like a scheme,” he said. “It’s not like a dirty trick.”

In the recorded call, Bell said KCRCC chair Brent Regan came up with the idea to install Reilly as party chair. Both Regan and Reilly denied this, asserting that any comments or efforts Bell made were that of a private individual, not an official of the KCRCC.

“I’ve been talking about this with all kinds of people that I’m friends with,” Reilly said. “If other people think that was an interesting idea, I can’t stop them from following suit or whatever.”

Reilly said he sees himself as “bolstering democracy” in North Idaho by spurring others into getting involved in local politics.

“I see this as a big win for the Democratic Party,” he said.

The KCRCC’s alleged plan to dismantle the Kootenai County Democrats reportedly galvanized the party.

By the March 11 filing deadline, 82 people had filed as Democrats. Just 11 people had filed for Democratic precinct captain positions just two days before, at least one of whom was allegedly a KCRCC plant.

Koch said 19 of those filing were either unknown to the Kootenai County Democratic Party or were known conservatives.

They included John Malloy, a leader of the Coeur d’Alene chapter of the John Birch Society, and Guy McAninch, a Post Falls School Board trustee who was endorsed by the KCRCC. Both candidates have since withdrawn.

Meanwhile, Rognstad called Reilly’s actions “duplicitous” and harmful to Idaho.

When one political party has total control, he said, it drives policy to extremes.

“Extremism is when you become so locked into your ideology that you’re not willing to hear or listen to anyone else,” he said. “That’s really problematic. The only way our democracy can function is when we can debate and be willing to compromise.”

Rognstad said conservative efforts to infiltrate and undermine the Democratic Party exacerbate these issues.

“Because (Republicans) have supermajority control of all three branches of government, it drives our politics further to the extreme,” he said. “The majority Idahoans are left behind.”

For his part, John Grimm said he doesn’t believe the KCRCC represents the values of the majority of Kootenai County conservatives.

After he shared the recorded phone call with The Press, Grimm said around 60 local residents reached out to him, including “many prominent Republicans.”

Just one comment was negative, he said. The rest were “outraged” at the KCRCC’s alleged conduct.

“I pray that the members of the central committee will take a step back and examine their path and recognize that it is harming the reputation of Kootenai County Republicans,” Grimm said.

By KAYE THORNBRUGH | Staff Writer CDA/Post Falls Press

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