When Mayor Dave Bieter turns to Boise's citizenry, he usually gets what he wants. Voters elected him to two terms of the Idaho House of Representatives before sending him to Boise City Hall, where he has begun a rare third term in office, following his most recent victory on Nov. 8, 2011, swamping his opponent by a 3-to-1 margin.
But even Bieter concedes that his newest challenge, collecting 48,000 signatures to put a local-option initiative on this November's ballot, could be his greatest task to date.
"This is the most-important issue for our city, bar none," said Bieter at the Feb. 16 meeting of the City Club of Boise. "The Idaho Legislature isn't going to give it to us. We have to put this measure on the ballot, and it has to go in an even-numbered year."
Bieter isn't even asking for a local-option tax ... yet. He wants the chance to put a possible levy before voters but can't even float an initiative until voters first say it's OK to hold a future referendum.
"We won't have a public transportation system that works without local option," said Bieter.
Bieter said the wording of a proposed initiative is being given the once-over by the Idaho Secretary of State's Office, and he expected to launch an aggressive nine-week signature campaign as soon as possible. The deadline to submit petition signatures for verification is Tuesday, May 1.
"Everybody can get 20 signatures," said Bieter. "I'm pretty sure I could get 20 in my own family."
Bieter knows a thing or two about campaigns, beginning with the fact that they're usually expensive. That's where a consortium of business people is expected to step forward. Former Albertsons CEO Gary Michael, developer Skip Oppenheimer and political consultant Jason Lehosit were all linked to the pro-local option movement by the Associated Press' John Miller in September 2011.
Miller reported that "a campaign would cost hundreds of thousands or even more than $1 million." But Lehosit is an expert fundraiser, leading the 2007 drive that convinced Ada and Canyon county residents to approve the College of Western Idaho.
Looking out at the City Club attendees in the Grove Hotel ballroom, numbered at more than 300, Bieter estimated that if everyone there could guarantee 20 valid signatures, that could result in 6,000 names to kick off the campaign. But he'll need a lot more rooms filled with a lot more supporters before May 1.