Tibbs struggles with money, message


Measuring the success of a political race is never a sure thing until it's over, but the race for Boise mayor seems decidedly lopsided.

On one side is incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter, a well-supported former legislator who is known for his sometimes confrontational style. On the other is Boise City Council Member Jim Tibbs, a former Boise police officer and state drug czar.

While both candidates are familiar faces in the community, their campaigns have been received very differently.

"The momentum has never caught on," said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State and Idaho political guru, of the Tibbs campaign.

Weatherby moderated a recent City Club forum between Bieter and Tibbs, and said while he felt Tibbs performed better than in past events, he still has a long way to go.

"He hasn't found the issue, or issues, that would make people want to defeat an incumbent mayor," he said. "Jim Tibbs' challenge is to make the case for why Dave Bieter should be replaced and make a clear and convincing case, and I don't think he has to this point."

But Tibbs said his message is getting out loud and clear.

"He is talking issues," said Matt Ellsworth, Tibbs' campaign manager. "He's been comprehensive about it." He pointed to Tibbs' plans for transportation, the environment and taxes among others.

"We have issues," Tibbs said. "We have issues of substance."

Tibbs was heavily criticized early in the campaign for bringing an ethics-violation charge against Bieter in a press conference, rather than notifying the City Council of the issue first. The city's ethics commission, created by Bieter, found no justification for an inquiry. Tibbs also accused Council Member Maryann Jordan of improprieties after she spoke out against his tactics.

"The fact that the committee met so quickly and turned him down, and he turned his fire on Maryann Jordan, didn't help him," Weatherby said. But Tibbs stands by those decisions.

"I think I did the right thing in calling Bieter on that," he said. "There were critics, but also a lot of folks who appreciated my efforts."

While Tibbs has never declared a political affiliation (Bieter is a Democrat), he has appeared as the Republican candidate. Early in the year, during a speech before the Ada County Republican Central Committee, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter pointed to Tibbs while calling for the party to take back control of Boise and Ada County. But Ellsworth said Tibbs doesn't represent any one party.

"It's easy to put a Republican label on us because Republican supporters have clearly flocked to Jim Tibbs," he said. "But that's not the whole story."

Tibbs did reach out to conservatives in a recent campaign mailing, which carried a sticker on the front of the envelope, stating, "I support the 10 Commandments."

"People are asking about the issue," Ellsworth said. "[Tibbs] wanted to be clear."

One issue that has stayed consistent throughout Tibbs' campaign is that Bieter has harmed relationships between the city and other valley governing bodies. Tibbs has repeatedly stated that he would focus on better cooperation with other cities and agencies.

Ryan Hill, Bieter's campaign manager, said Bieter is not a bully, but an effective leader.

"The old saying from The Godfather is, 'It's business, not personal.' And politics are sort of the same way," Hill said. "You have to be willing to sit across the table from people and kind of argue with them about something pretty strongly, and then come back the next day and work on a completely different project."

For his part, Bieter has used his post as mayor as his strongest campaign asset.

"There's not much evidence of a campaign," Weatherby said of Bieter. "Incumbents don't necessarily have to act as politicians or candidates if they feel they're in a strong position."

Unseating an incumbent mayor in Boise is a rarity and hasn't been done since 1965, when Jay Amyx defeated Mayor Eugene Shellworth in an election and subsequent runoff that sparked high voter turnout. Weatherby doesn't expect even moderate turnout this year, noting that Boise hasn't seen 50 percent voter turnout since 1975, and participation was as low as 10 percent in 1989.

Bieter not only has the advantage of incumbency, but he has raised considerably more money than Tibbs.

According to campaign financial disclosure reports filed last week, Bieter has raised more than $227,000. Substantial donations came from supporters as varied as the Boise Firefighters PAC ($1,000) and Micron CEO Steve Appleton ($1,000). Other notable donors include Idaho Deputy Atty. Gen. Rob Luce ($900); Pete Cenarrusa ($900); Compass board member AJ Balukoff ($1,000); and Boise Airport Commissioner Edward Stimpson ($1,000).

By comparison, Tibbs has raised just more than $50,000, $12,741 of which was left over from his 2005 campaign for Boise City Council.

He is not without his own notable supporters. These include Boise attorney Allen Derr ($1,000); Tax Fairness PAC ($1,000); Ada County Highway District Board President John Franden ($50); and Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre ($100). Dr. Paul Collins has split his support, giving Tibbs $1,000 before giving the same to Bieter.

"Jim Tibbs is not for sale," said Ellsworth, when asked about the financial discrepancies. "[His campaign] is built on people and not on dollars."

"It doesn't matter," Tibbs said. "It's not about the money."

Among those who have ardently supported Tibbs is Mike Roberts, who donated $1,000 to the campaign. Roberts, a longtime employee of Ada County, said he feels comfortable with Tibbs' approach.

"I know, respect and like him," Roberts said. "He's always been a consummate gentleman. He's a man of his word."

While Roberts said Bieter is also a man of integrity, Bieter's sometimes strong-arm approach inspired his support of Tibbs. Despite Tibbs' apparent struggles, Roberts said he's sticking with his candidate.

Unsurprisingly, Bieter's campaign is pleased with its total. "It's critical," Hill said. "When you're going to go out and run an aggressive and professional campaign, that's what you have to do."

Hill points to the wide range of supporters represented in the financial report as proof of Bieter's popularity. He admits, though, that he's not resting easy.

"You always have to wonder if they're hiding the ball," Hill said. "Something else that's out there—whether it's an independent expenditure, or whether it's some late money that's going to come in for some kind of October surprise."

While Hill promises that the public will be seeing more of Bieter in the near future, Ellsworth and Tibbs declined to reveal any of their campaign's upcoming strategies, other than to say they will continue talking to as many people as possible.

Weatherby questions if it's too late for Tibbs to make an impact.

"At this point four years ago, [it was a] more competitive race than we are seeing now," he said. "Jim Tibbs still has a chance to make an impression, but time is running out."