John Reuter 

Parents, politics and passions

At 32, John Reuter is already on a fourth chapter in his professional life. Publisher, public servant, environmental activist and all-around political animal, Reuter recently pulled up stakes as executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho and relocated with his wife to Seattle, where he recently took on the role as director of Local and Bipartisan Strategies for the League of Conservation Voters.

In addition to his environmental advocacy, Reuter said he has become "deeply concerned about how we treat the poor and particularly the homeless."

"It seems to me that America is a rich enough nation that we should be able to put a roof over everyone's head," he said.

It's not as if Idaho is in his rearview mirror. In a recent conversation, Boise Weekly asked him to talk about his work in Idaho, as well as weigh in on the current state of Gem State politics.

Let's start with your formative years. Tell me about your mom and dad.

Mom is an artist and educator. My dad was a defense attorney in the town of Lebanon, Ore., but he was killed by a car on his way to court. The driver was high on a mixture of cocktails and drove through a stop sign. My dad died instantly on impact. I was in eighth grade.

I'm presuming that turned your world inside out.

It was very... Yes, it impacts what matters to you.

Did you have to grow up a bit too fast?

I don't think I understood pain in such a deep way until then. I don't know if I would be the person I am today without experiencing that tragedy. The prosecutors came to my mother and asked, "What do you want us to do with this suspect?" She was a young woman. We all talked about it and what we ended up doing was to give her another chance; to go back to school and maintain a passing average and nothing else. She went back and got her life in order. I think that spoke so much to my father's belief in people.

What did you learn from that?

Some people need to fill a hole with money or success. I guess I needed to fill an emotional hole. I never really talked about it that way before.

How are you doing with filling that hole?

It's a little endless. But there are moments where it's a bit more fulfilled. I thought about that when I was appointed to the Sandpoint City Council.

How old were you then?

Twenty-four. That's when I worked on the first anti-discrimination ordinance in the state of Idaho. A moment like that helps fill the hole.

Let's fast-forward to your time with Conservation Voters for Idaho. I hope you know that you have a reputation for being a very impressive fundraiser for causes and candidates.

The strategy is much more important than the money.

What's the secret sauce of successful political fundraising?

A mentor taught me that game-changing gifts require a game-changing program. If you want people to invest, then you have to have a vision and a plan to get there. You're building a community, not just raking in money at fundraisers. The real question is: How do you build a community that shares a united sense of values? The money usually follows.

I'd be remiss if I did ask you to weigh in on some other political forces at the Idaho Statehouse. Let's start with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

IFF is on the wane. They are less and less important at the Statehouse and come across as desperate on occasion. They're just not as relevant as they once were. Look at their legislative record. Their last big victory was working with the ACLU on justice reform.

How about the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry? Its president got caught in an email scandal this past year with some pretty choice words for the Senate Tax Committee chairman.

It was an incredibly offensive email about an incredibly powerful chairman. I think that email revealed an arrogance. There's a single-mindedness of late. I think there are deeper blows coming if they don't humble themselves in a true way. We live in a democracy, not an oligarchy. Business doesn't always get to call the shots.

How about the current election ballot in Boise, including the mayor's race and foothills levy?

I predict victory, as long as people turn out in this off-year election. I think some of the distasteful comments from Mayor Bieter's opponent [Judy Peavy-Derr] about refugees being a "blight" should help with some of that turnout, I hope. The Boise I know would not put up with that kind of borderline racist politics.

Finally, can you speak to your decision to move to Seattle?

My wife applied for, and was accepted, at the University of Washington Law School. She invited me to go to Seattle with her; and I thought that was a really good sign for our marriage. I'm rather fond of my wife. I'm smitten. It was a fairly easy decision.

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