Rival campaign signs dot the interstate and restaurant marquees in Nampa. As a transgender former construction company owner scrambles for votes against two hamburger-joint owners and incumbent mayor Tom Dale, who seeks a third term, Nampa citizens are being forced to consider a broader political agenda than perhaps any time in the past.
Mayoral hopeful Melissa Sue Robinson's campaign has attracted attention far beyond Nampa. A 58-year-old male-to-female post-op transgendered person, as she described herself in an early campaign announcement, Robinson's uncommon background in the conservative enclave of Nampa has drawn interest from national media such as The New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune, all of which ran a wire story about her. Robinson, a Lansing, Mich., native who has lived in Nampa for almost a year, emphasizes that her business background as a former owner of a Michigan construction company and her educational background in management make her the right woman for the job. When it comes to politics, Robinson's stature and stern countenance make for a no-nonsense approach--her daily press releases and updates have flooded reporters' inboxes for months. Seated at a table at Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa, Robinson described her campaign and her values.
"I'm neither Democrat or Republican, I'm a middle-of-the-road candidate. I take things from both parties. When it comes to the Republican Party, I take their business stance. When it comes to the Democratic Party, I take their equal-rights stance," said Robinson.
Busy behind the grill at Blazen Burgers, a takeout hamburger joint, Brad Blamires stepped out of the kitchen and next door to his other establishment, Generations Restaurant and Lounge, a steak and seafood eatery that was still closed before the dinner rush to discuss his campaign. A longtime Nampa resident, Blamires speaks with the steady composure of a soldier, perhaps from his time in the Army, as he describes what he sees as the financial blunders of city government.
"Nampa outsources so much of their tax-payer dollars. At the Civic Center the caterer down there is based out of Maryland. We have to get the Civic Center to where it quits losing money. The Idaho Center is a money pit. Even the golf course has lost money this year. Let's get in there and find a way to make these entities work where they're not a tax payer burden and they're actually helping the community," said Blamires.
Like Blamires, Jim Dorsey also takes exception to how taxpayer dollars are spent.
Seated in the corner of Squeezer's, his 1950's-style diner, while rock and roll plays over the speakers, the animated and outgoing Dorsey flips through a stack of papers six inches thick detailing his version of the misdoings of city officials. Flashing a smile, Dorsey talks with the ease of a practiced public speaker as he enthusiastically outlines plans for shaking things up in local government. He is incredulous about Mayor Dale's plans to build a new, larger library while the current library is faltering.
"It's just been irresponsible. They're open two less days, they've cut the resources in half, their staff has taken voluntary cuts, they've dismissed one person, but the two people on top, why aren't they looking at those two?" said Dorsey.
When BW spoke on the phone with Dale, a longtime city councilor and then mayor in Nampa who had just finished an interview at a Spanish language radio station, he was adamant that the library is necessary but would not start construction just yet.
"Rebuilding the library is a big part of the revitalization plan for downtown Nampa that was formulated when the economy was quite different than today. With the changing landscape, we are re-evaluating the library and looking at funding to make it a reality," said Dale.
While crime has been an issue in Nampa elections for decades, Robinson and Dorsey have different ideas about what to do.
"Mayor Dale says crime is going down. I did an investigation and, yeah, it's going down in petty crime, but when it comes to violent crime and robbery, it's going up. We need to stop this crime and stop it yesterday," said Robinson.
Dale has plans for a new public safety building for the Nampa Police Department. Dorsey, however, is incredulous about the need for this expense.
"They want a new police station. Why do we need three police chiefs when crime has been down like the mayor says?" asks Dorsey. Dale, however, defends the project.
"The crime rate has dropped every year for the last six years and is down 22 percent. I attribute this to the City Council and my commitment to giving the police department adequate resources," said Dale. "The present police station was built when we had a police force of about 48 people. Currently, it houses 150 people. The need for more room is very evident."
Aside from the perennial topics of public safety, urban renewal and spending, Robinson's presence in the race has injected Nampa with a conversation on gender identity. While her critics have been quick to make it an issue, such as creating a derogatory fake Twitter profile for her entitled "Woman with a Penis," Robinson does not want gender politics to be the focus of her campaign.
"I'm for civil unions, but I haven't given it enough thought whether I'd be for same-sex marriage. I want the citizens to know I didn't come to town to push the gay-rights agenda," said Robinson. "If I was campaigning on that issue, it'd be in San Francisco, not Nampa, Idaho."