All politics is local. It's conventional wisdom first voiced by Tip O'Neill, master politician and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977-1987. O'Neill preached the gospel that a politician's success was indelibly linked to his or her ability to influence local issues, no matter how mundane.
Public safety, clean streets, economic vitality and, yes, even cigarettes and streetcars are all considered by the men and women who manage municipalities. Perhaps, above all, satisfaction with a local lifestyle is the key indicator of a city politician's success or demise.
Understanding the briar patch of local politics is nothing new to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. From his days as an attorney, serving a number of Treasure Valley governmental agencies, to his two-and-a-half terms in the Idaho House of Representatives, and finally to his current run as Boise's chief executive, Bieter takes little for granted.
"I figured that I would take each term one at a time, if they came at all," said Bieter. "But I must say, I still really enjoy it."
If Bieter is successful in his re-election bid come Tuesday, Nov. 8, he would enter rarefied air, becoming only the second person in the city's history to be elected to three terms. The only other was Dick Eardley, who served as mayor from 1974-1986.
Historical precedence aside, Boiseans may be hard-pressed to acknowledge an election is just a few days away. Campaign signs are few and far between in the city. Candidate forums have been sparsely attended. And the buzz that usually surrounds a hotly contested runoff sounds more like a hum; as in, hmmmm, I didn't realize there was an election coming up.
In spite of the fact that four City Council seats, in addition to the mayoralty, are up for grabs on Nov. 8, voters have a relatively simple decision to make: Do they want more of the same?
To wage a campaign against Bieter, an opponent has to find hizzoner's political vulnerabilities, and there are very few. In fact, you need to drill pretty deep into 2007 election results to find pockets of Boise that aren't pro-Bieter. He lost precincts 27, 28, 49, 50 and 52 in far West Boise to his then-opponent Jim Tibbs. But Bieter swamped his challenger in the city's inner core and North End. In precinct 37, Bieter won by a 7-1 margin.
Bieter's record is formidable: neighborhood libraries, community recreation centers, Allumbaugh House, the Esther Simplot and Terry Day parks, curbside recycling, and the pending Biomark, JUMP, Whole Foods, and Eighth and Main construction projects.
"We had a couple of years of serious leg work on a lot of those and that leads us to where we are today, harvesting some of that hard work," said Bieter. "We've never seen a busier time for companies either expanding or wanting to come here."
Bieter's opponent, David Hall, 42, a political science student at the College of Western Idaho, told BW that he "isn't interested in running a negative campaign that disparages the mayor," but he did say that an "old boys' club" was being run at City Hall.
"Much of Idaho's wealth is here in Boise," said Hall. "That wealth has controlled our politics and controlled our city management, and quite frankly, it's controlled the progress of Boise. To me, that's a good old boys' club."
While he conceded that his campaign was a "spur of the moment thing," Hall said his effort was simple at its core.
"A friend of mine was complaining about politics, and I asked him when was the last time he voted, and he said, 'I haven't voted.' Well then, you really don't have the right or privilege to complain because you didn't participate, and it's important to participate," said Hall, who insisted his campaign was rather old-school. "Mainly, it's just me shaking hands. I sit out at a stop, waiting for the bus every day. You'll probably see me out there holding a sign that says Dave Hall for Mayor."
When asked about a group of Boise citizens who said they're worried for their future, those participating in the Occupy Boise movement, Bieter said he was interested in hearing more and even expressed support for the protestors.
"Hearing their perspective is very important," said Bieter. "Time will tell what happens, but I think there are healthy aspects in the movement. Access to opportunity has been critical to our nation's success, but the current state of the economy and the disparities that we see in income, education and opportunity is a concern. I think that's all a part of what they're voicing."
Bieter had barely turned 40 when he entered politics (on Nov. 1, he turned 52), but he said he's quite pleased with the new blood coursing through the veins of the Boise City Council. When TJ Thomson was elected to the council in 2009, he became its youngest member (he's currently 37). In January, Lauren McLean was appointed to the council (she's older than Thomson by one month). And the mayor said he would like to see the council skew younger still, by supporting the candidacy of Ben Quintana, 33.
Boise City Council Seat 2
Council Member Alan Shealy's decision not to seek re-election for Seat 1 set off a series of moves, which secured the re-election of Council Member McLean. She opted to run for Shealy's open seat, but found no opponent, thereby sending her back to the council in 2012 for a full four-year term. That, in turn, opened up McLean's current seat, No. 2, for election.
When Quintana was mulling a run for the council, he knew one thing for certain--he had no desire to run against McLean. He had already competed against her once, in a fashion, as finalists for the council position that ultimately went to McLean.
"I knew I was going to run this year, and I won't say who I would have run against because now I don't need to," said Quintana. "I'm obviously running for an open seat."
Quintana, former director of business development for the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and founder of Boise Young Professionals, is waging an aggressive, social media-driven campaign.
"I have a clear advantage," said Quintana. "If you look at my Facebook page, plus our tweets and re-tweets, I just don't see any comparison. I truly think that's going to help get a lot of new voters out."
While Quintana said he likes a lot of what he sees coming from the current council, a key plank of his platform involves a new branding effort for Boise.
"Something along the lines of: 'recreate while you innovate,'" said Quintana. "The city really doesn't have a clear identity and that's something I believe we need to focus on right now."
One of Quintana's opponents, Michael Cunningham, 59, an area director for the Boise School District, said his campaign issues weren't "too far apart" from Quintana's but dismissed his opponent's age.
"Realistically, at 33, how much experience has [Quintana] had?" asked Cunningham. "I'm not sure he would be able to compete with me when it comes to my experience and my involvement in the community. "
Cunningham also questioned the age of his other opponent, Lawrence Johnson, who is 24.
"He's a nice, young kid," said Cunningham. "He borrowed a saw, started his own business, and now he's in construction."
Johnson, a student at Boise State and owner of L.W. Johnson Construction Development, owns a lot of saws. In fact, he said he grew his business by more than 400 percent during the last two years.
"I'm a libertarian, but fiscally, I'm a conservative," said Johnson. "In my mind, government needs to play the smallest role in our day-to-day lives that it can--less regulation and less government intervention."
Johnson said his main campaign promise hinges on taxes.
"I would not raise the budget in a recession," said Johnson. "[The council] raises the budget 1.5 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent in a recession, and it's raising property taxes and it's killing people."
Johnson said in the run-up to Election Day, he planned to roll out what he called "a major campaign. Our signs will be different than everyone else's."
Council Seat 3
Council Member David Eberle, 59, has good reason to be confident. In 2007, he defeated his two opponents combined by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Even more impressive was that he swept both of his opponents in each of Boise's 81 precincts.
"I truly believe that Boise is at a critical junction," said Eberle. "It's a junction where we can demonstrate our ability to create a prosperous future."
Eberle said he's anxious to see through what he called important initiatives in another term: better public transportation, promoting economic vitality, and completion of a branch library in Bown Crossing while considering a new main library in the downtown core.
David "Pappy" Honey, 55, a veteran of four council races, is no stranger to politics.
"I'm a candidate, not a politician," said Honey, an auto parts salesman. "It's great for candidates to get endorsements and support, but at what cost do these things come to the voters and citizens of Boise?"
Honey said he advocates brainstorming to attract more jobs to Boise and more park-and-ride venues to stem traffic congestion.
Council Seat 5
Council Member Elaine Clegg, 56, is seeking her third four-year term but is without opposition. In 2007, Clegg defeated her opponent, Carol Wingate by a 2-to-1 margin.
Council Seat 1
Council Member McLean is also running unopposed for her first full four-year term, following one year in Seat 2.