Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election 2012 Preview: District 17

Posted By on Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Idaho District 17 encompasses a large area of the Boise Bench. Many years ago, residents old and new traveled down the hill to live in the North End and surrounding areas, but the Bench has seen a revival in recent years.

Nick Roundtree is a realtor who specializes in Bench listings.

“The Depot Bench contains some of the most beautiful and historic homes just one mile or so from downtown, at much lower prices than the North End,” Roundtree said. “We are seeing North Enders with growing families moving to the Bench to buy larger homes.”

Micah Deffries lives in the area. He is one of those former North Enders who made the move up the hill almost two years ago.

“I love that it's close to town and yet not really a part of the noisy busy-ness of it all,” he said. “I don't know if it's cheaper but it probably is.”

Another Bench resident, Holly Johnson, found the same appeal as Deffries and Roundtree did.

“We found the coolest house, neighborhood, neighbors, price and everything,” Johnson said. “The culture, the beautiful parks, local shops and delicious restaurants, all the different markets and cute animals everywhere makes me love this place so much.”

The area has a dozen developed parks, and according to the City of Boise, the median age for a Bench restaurant is younger than the average Boisean, at 33.6 years old.

Roundtree also lives on the Bench. He, like many Bench dwellers, welcomes the recent development in the area.

“I think the Bench is slowing gentrifying, and we'll see more of a North End feel in upcoming years and development,” he said. “The remodel and redevelopment of the strip mall on Vista was a great start.”

Vista Village has long been a landmark of the area. It was Boise’s first shopping center in 1949. Idaho House candidate John Gannon is the president of the Bench Association.

“At one point, we had less than 60 percent full [in Vista Village], so it was in need of an upgrade,” Gannon said. “And it was really neat. We now have the separated sidewalk and the trees.”

“The access to Whole Foods will appeal to buyers as well,” said Roundtree, “as it is a short drive down the hill.”

The area is somewhat of an island in the legislative scheme of things. In District 17, Reps. Sue Chew and Bill Killen have both held their seats since 2006. Sen. Eliot Werk has been in office since 2002. All three are Democrats.

The composition of the district’s legislative leaders creates an interesting situation. This Democratic “island” is surrounded by many Republican districts.

But for Johnson, this only strengthens her views.

“I don't think I would be able to respect my views as well without trying to understand and respect the views of the districts around us,” said Johnson. “I think a lot of benchers are that way, too, and that is what made me really fall in love with our district.”

Deffries feels a little less optimistic about the few Democratic districts in the state. He believes that the Legislature as a whole does not accomplish what he thinks it should.

“For me, the saddest part of all our system has been the apparent disconnect between the votes and actions of elected officials and what their electorate actually wants,” he said. “I say this because, when a certain party votes in lockstep on nearly every issue for an entire term, I am left to wonder how it is that those votes are representing the people who sent them there. Are they representing us or their party?”

This party vote that has become regular in the Idaho Legislature discourages many citizens from the system. It has created a situation in which many go to the polls and vote on party instead of candidate.

Even with the three Democratic members of District 17, the Legislature is still largely Republican.

“Most the vote numbers I saw on major issues were 100 percent Republican this and 100 percent Republican that,” he said. “How are they supposed to represent us and not ask us what we think?”

But Johnson trusts who she has voted for, and that they are representing her well. She agrees with Deffries in that the party affiliation doesn’t matter to her as much as the actions they are taking. She has been happy with her elected officials so far.

“As long as they are fighting for what makes this state the fantastic place it is and will be,” said Johnson, “I will continue to support and vote for them.”

However, Deffries said if candidates made an effort to say, “Hey, this is the specific way I’m going to listen to my electorate,” he said he “would feel so much more comfortable about living in a red state.”

Killen retired this term, leaving the Democratic seat up for grabs for the first time in six years.

The area continues to grow and develop, and many of the area’s residents seem to be happy with that.

The development plan for the Central Bench mentions many goals: fixing streets, creating more mixed housing, introducing public art, continually improving the 12 public parks, and planning activities for the area.

The infrastructure and the politics of the district can be seen each day, but every once in a while, we are reminded that we are all living together.

“The only traffic jam I have been in on the Bench was for a mother duck and her ducklings to cross the street,” said Johnson. “The guy to the front right of me had a Bush bumper sticker on the back, the car in front had an Obama sticker. Both stopped, laughing, smiling from ear to ear at this family of ducks. Even if we disagree on some things, at least we can all agree that a family of ducks need a full car escort to cross the street.”

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