Boundary County Sheriff’s Debate

Last Thursday, a local group, The Panhandle Republican Women, hosted a debate featuring all three candidates for county sheriff. The event was held at the Bonners Ferry High School gym. It was literally a standing room only event. Interest in the contest is high and this event might be the only time all three participate in such a forum. In my travels over the last several months, I have had occasions to listen to all three men give public presentations.

In Idaho, the sheriff is a partisan office. (The current sheriff is retiring.) In our county no Democrats filed to run. Thus, the winner is the Republican with the most votes. There is no fifty percent plus one vote requirement here. Whoever wins on May 21st is the new sheriff.

For those of you outside of north Idaho, let me paint a brief description of each guy.

I will do this in the same order as the debate began, namely, alphabetically.

Dave Schuman

Dave Schuman. I can best describe Dave as reminiscent of Boss Hogg. Dave is your stereotypical career deputy (just shy of 30 years on the force) in small town America. A friend said they pictured his leadership style as sitting in his office, with his feet on the desk while scarfing down a couple of donuts. He is the favorite of many old-timers here. He stands for the status quo. His motto seems to be “do no harm.”

Travis Stolley

Travis Stolley. Travis is a young fellow that grew up in the area. He spent time in the Marines and then joined the sheriff’s department. I like him and think he might make a good sheriff, just not this time.

Jon VanGesen

Jon VanGesen. Jon has the most experience of any of the candidates, but I think many view him as an outsider. He retired from a sheriff’s department in Washington state and then started working as a sheriff’ deputy for neighboring Bonner County. Jon lives in the southern part of the county near Naples. If elected, Jon wants to move the department forward and into being more proactive and professional. He wants to build a new jail and find ways to increase deputy’s pay. He represents change and modernization.

We arrived at the debate right at the 6 PM start time and parked far from the entrance of the gym. Once we entered the building, we milled around for a few minutes before deciding to look for seats on the far side of the place. Amazingly, not only did we find seats but the guy next to us turned out to be the pastor of the local church where we worship.

As the debate started, I took photos of each guy. It was then that I noticed that each podium was different in size, shape, and color. Then I noticed that Schuman had a solid base on his podium, Stolley has legs on his podium, and VanGesen had wheels on his. After noticing this, I naturally wondered which one Buffalo Guy would choose to steal.

2024 Bonners County Sheriff debate

The debate was informative, cordial, and well run. Thankfully, there were no audio mishaps. The four microphones held up fine, which is not always the case when using wireless devices. The moderators tried to rotate the questions, so each candidate had opportunities to be the first to answer questions. At the end, each guy was given two questions specifically targeted at them.

Here are my notes as to each question. (I list only what I felt was the meat of each question).

  • 1 This question was about the difference in line officer vs administrator.
  • 2 If something like Covid happens again, would you obey the mandate or obey the Constitution?
  • 3 How have you saved money or brought it into the department?
  • 4 If elected, what would be your management style?
  • 5 Child safety and protection
  • 6 Are drugs a problem in the county?
  • 7 What is your experience in grants and grant writing?
  • 8 Second Amendment topic, if ordered, would you be willing to go door-to-door and confiscate weapons?
  • 9 Ruby Ridge—what would you have done?
  • 10 What is your experience working with other agencies?
  • 11 Do we need a new jail? If so, remodel or replace? How would you fund it?
  • 12 What would you do if Biden or his minions dumped a bus of illegals in our town?
  • 13 Mental health issues, what can you do?
  • 14 Concerns a case known as “baby Cyrus”. It involves police removing a child from his home. This was recently part of a court case. (Note: This question was VanGesen’s worst and most mediocre answer of the night.)
  • 15 Concerned a shutdown order and would they obey it?

Individual questions


  • 1 Asked about advancement. His reply was that’s why I’m running.
  • 2 Citizen involvement


  1. You only have 8 years of law enforcement experience, why should we vote for you?
  2. How does being raised here make you a better sheriff?


  • 1 You’re from the big city, how does that experience help you here?
  • 2 As a deputy in Washington state, why was there a suit against you for excessive force. Answer, suit was not brought until 3 years after the alleged event, and it strangely coincided with rise of BLM riots in the Seattle area. No wrongdoing found by investigators, no merit. The insurance company wanted it to go away and wrote a check—this happened after I retired.


In my mind, VanGesen won almost every question. I think he scored the best on the Ruby Ridge question. He quoted Sarah Weaver and got to the heart of the issue.

Schuman said that the previous sheriff used to take all new deputies to walk the property and talk about what happened. This was one of his most detailed answers all night.

Stolley was lost on this one, which is somewhat understandable since he wasn’t on the planet when it happened.

On the mandate vs Constitution question, Stolley and VanGesen said they would go with the Constitution, Schuman stumbled a little bit on this and finally stated he took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then dismissed the idea that Constitutional conflict could happen.

On grants, VanGesen nailed it, and the others were clearly lost trying to come up with an answer.

On the new jail, Schuman commented that when he was hired in the late 1990’s it was in disrepair and hasn’t gotten any better. He did not seem to have any detailed knowledge of the new jail proposal.

I have a few other thoughts on the debate. All questions were submitted in advance by the public with the possible exception of the individual ones at the end. I know that public speaking is not everyone’s best skill. Also, I concede that there is a bit of a beauty contest aspect to such a spectacle, but on the other hand, any election is a bit like that or a job interview if you will.


We entered the debate unsure of who to support and left with a VanGesen yard sign. On our way out of the gym, we saw our pastor, walking out the door with the middle podium tucked under his arm. I didn’t see that one coming.