Earlier this summer I moved from Boise to Seattle, following my wife who started law school at the University of Washington. I've found the politics here in the unofficial capital of the Pacific Northwest a bit unfamiliar, to say the least.
Our local council district race features a progressive Democratic African-American woman whose top policy initiative is decreasing violence through employing former gang members to help keep the peace. The proposal is interesting and has merit, having seen success in other cities, but the most fascinating thing is she's the big business-backed conservative in the race.
Her opponent is Kshama Sawant, an avowed socialist known for slogans like "Tax the Rich" and for successfully advocating for a $15 minimum wage, which is also supported by her opponent and literally every other serious candidate for local office. Sawant is also the incumbent and favored to win.
The reason I'm telling you this is so you understand why I'm skeptical of claims Boise has been taken over by left-wing liberals. At their most extreme, Mayor Dave Bieter and the Boise City Council are a mild-mannered, sincere bunch with a center-left agenda to gently nudge the city they love into a better future.
They've done this over the past four years by advocating that it should be safe to ride your bicycle around downtown and passing a law to make it illegal to fire someone because they are gay. They've opened new neighborhood libraries and launched head start and afterschool programs to help Boise's kids. They've worked with voters to repair decaying fire stations and are now asking Boiseans to set aside $10 million to protect special places like the foothills and the Boise River.
The campaign for this latest effort to protect clean water and open space—run by my old gang at Conservation Voters for Idaho—has a campaign logo that simply reads "I love Boise."
It's a perfect sentiment to capture what the proposed levy is all about: protecting the places that make Boise great. It could also be the slogan for Bieter and the three council members—Lauren McLean, Elaine Clegg and Scot Ludwig—running for reelection this year.
Bieter, especially, loves Boise. He loves to share how his mother told his father they could live anywhere in the world, as long as she could see the Boise River from there. You get the sense he feels the same way.
Don't get me wrong. The mayor has his faults and has made mistakes, but his love for Boise has never wavered and it has informed his politics.
The mayor's principal opponent in this election is Judy Peavey-Derr, a former Ada County commissioner, former Ada County Highway District commissioner, successful realtor, former Compass board president and current member of the Greater Boise Auditorium District board.
Don't worry, you don't need to remember that long resume. You just need to know this: Judy Peavey-Derr does not love Boise. At least, she does not love Boise as it currently exists. There is perhaps some idealized version of Boise from the 1950s that she loves, but as for the city we know today, she does not love it. She probably dislikes it. She might even hate it. Regardless, Judy Peavey-Derr definitely does not love Boise.
These are bold assertions and I understand some may think I'm dealing in hyperbole. How dare I make these wild accusations? It's because I've paid attention to what Judy Peavey-Derr has had to say.
She told the Idaho Statesman that "frankly, I think that the South End of town is getting blighted by a lot of refugees and different dialects coming into the school." Rather than apologize, she has tripled down on this claim.
Let's be clear: refugees are people, not blight. They also tend to be incredibly hard working, entrepreneurial people—it's not easy to travel halfway around the world to find safety.
Her entire campaign is built on this kind of thinking. On her website she writes "Boise is in urgent need of change." By her account, businesses are leaving town in droves (not true, have you seen the cranes?); nobody can find a job (unemployment is actually 2.6 percent); and we're being asked to spend money on protecting clean water and open space (as if those things don't help attract businesses).
So go and vote this Nov. 3, and when you do, vote for the Boise you love.
Is the Boise you love a caricature of some idyllic, homogenous past or a dynamic, growing, worldly city? Do you see refugees as bringing problems or new life to Boise? Do you believe equal rights are a public good or a needless regulation on business? Do you love Boise as it exists and what it is growing to become, or a Boise that use to be? Vote this November, but don't just vote against those that would damage the place you love, vote for Boise.
John T. Reuter is a College of Idaho alum and formerly served as president of the Sandpoint City Council and executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He currently serves as director of Local and Bipartisan Strategies for the League of Conservation Voters in Seattle and writes a column for the Pacific Northwest Inlander in Spokane, Wash.