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Coffee Clashing

Political discussions come with espresso

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It's a scene straight out of film noir: dimly lit bars filled with stately, dark wood and leather furniture, martinis or glasses of Scotch swirled gently as backroom deals are brokered in hushed voice by men in custom suits.

It's the pop-culture stereotype of how politics work. But in Idaho, at least, the two-martini lunch has turned into the coffeehouse rendezvous. Most of the state's lawmakers and political insiders are far more likely to conduct business in a downtown Boise coffeehouse than a bar, and many meetings are conducted with the hissing of an espresso machine in the background.

"The days of the martini lunch are over," said Sen. John McGee, a Caldwell Republican and a familiar face in downtown coffee shops.

The coffee meeting has evolved from an excuse for a caffeine jolt to a finely regulated political strategy, complete with partisan groupings, clandestine meetings and predictable appearances.

Those who work in the political arena know exactly where to find specific people, as they divide themselves among a handful of coffee shops like cliques.

Through our own research—aided in no small part by a plethora of caffeine—we've compiled a list of the five downtown coffee shops where you're most likely to spot politics in action. This is by no mean a complete list of the coffee shops favored by politicians, just those that have the highest politician-to-civilian ratios.

Flying M Coffee House

Between the countdown to President George Bush's departure from office and the tattooed and pierced staff, there's little confusion that this is a Democratic stronghold.

Spread out between hipsters in deconstructed clothing, hungrily poaching the free wireless Internet on their laptops, politicos gather in small groups. They're easy to spot: First, the suits are a dead giveaway. Second, look for the legislative name tags on lapels.

This is a favorite gathering place for liberal-minded politicians and lobbyists alike. Lee Flinn, executive director of Conservation Voters of Idaho, is a regular who is greeted at the counter by name. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter is known to pop in.

Also, expect to see some judges, as well as their staffs.

It might seem like no-man's land for Republicans, but the occasional brave GOPer is known to wander in. Whether it's to take in the counterculture ambience, hide out from other party members or just appreciate the irony of likely being the only Bush-supporter in the room, who knows.

"There's no doubt that I find more of my Democratic friends at the Flying M, which I will stop by occasionally," McGee said.

The Republican legislator is never shy about it either: He's one of those guys in the suit wearing the name tag.

Java

While this coffee shop tends to lean toward the Democratic side of the aisle, expect to find party leadership hanging out in its contemporary interior.

At nearly any point, on nearly any day, you'll find at least a couple of party officials, and more than likely, a few lobbyists. Several of the movers and shakers from the Gallatin Group (which advises Bieter from time to time) favor Java and can be found huddled around a table discussing a recent legislative hearing.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet favors Java for casual meetings, although the Ketchum Democrat admits that she chooses her coffee shop depending on what's she's talking about and how much she doesn't want to be overheard.

Brian Cronin, former executive director of the Ada County Democratic Party and current candidate for one of Boise's District 19 House seats, is practically a fixture in the coffee shop. His public affairs business office is upstairs.

Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasting

With its modern and sleek look, Thomas Hammer has become the unofficial headquarters of Idaho's Republican Party.

GOP legislators of all levels eventually find their way into the coffee shop, conveniently located across Bannock Street from the governor's makeshift office in the Borah Post Office building. Otter himself is a frequent visitor, along with the rest of his staff. It's nearly a certainty that Otter will arrive with an entourage.

It takes a fraction of a second for Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, to name Hammer as the office's coffee of choice. It's fast, close and clean, he said.

But some legislators appreciate the widely spaced tables, which make eavesdropping a little harder. Jaquet is one of these, and said she's not quite sure how to interpret her frequent visits to the Republican stronghold.

Lobbyists like Patrick Sullivan know where they can find the state's power players. It's not uncommon to find them bouncing between coffee shops depending on whom they want to run in to.

Dawson Taylor

Right across Eighth Street from Thomas Hammer, Dawson is the old-school Republican stronghold. But these days, many of the party's leadership have changed affiliations to the Hammer.

Dawson remains a favorite for the rank-and-file party members, who treasure its down-to-earth atmosphere and tried-and-true coffee. Of course, coffee shop affiliations can be a touchy topic. While numerous sources reported that Otter was once a frequent visitor, Hanian was quick to deny that the governor was doing any caffeinated flip-flopping.

Dawson Taylor has its stalwarts, though, including some financially strained reporters looking for a cheap but strong cup of coffee.

Starbucks

Sure, it's the King Kong of coffee franchises, but that doesn't mean that it can't be the nonpartisan bridge to the future.

It seems both parties can agree on something that familiar. Whether Republican or Democrat, legislator or lobbyist, all types can be found looking for some form of a Venti decaf no-whip Mexican chocolate mocha, with a shot of something.

They come looking for a pick-me-up, but they don't linger for long. Starbuck's dominance is easily visible—just notice the prevalence of the familiar logo on many a cup in legislative hearings.

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