Pete Peterson

What does a guy have to do to get arrested?


Pete Peterson has a big friendly smile, perfect for television, and a deep soothing voice, perfect for radio. But neither was the reason he stood out from a crowd of 100-plus at an April 10 meeting of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's Education Task Force meeting in Nampa: It was his Guy Fawkes--V for Vendetta--mask and bright blue "Recall Luna" T-shirt, targeting Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

Oddly enough, Peterson said his antics still didn't do the trick.

"Motherfucker," he told Boise Weekly, after wearing the get-up for more than an hour. "I still can't get arrested."

It was far from Peterson's first stunt. A week before the Nampa meeting, he'd hurled campaign leaflets, promoting his Recall Luna campaign, from the Senate gallery of the Idaho Statehouse. As a bonus, he handcuffed himself to a railing until Idaho State Police showed him the door.

The one-time gubernatorial candidate and perennial thorn in the side of state officials literally can't get arrested in his hometown.

"I'll bet Thoreau never had to try this hard," said Peterson, 62, who has been using a walker lately because of a 2012 fall.

Peterson performs regularly as a stand-up comic and is quick with a joke, but insists the Luna recall is not a stunt. Still, law enforcement doesn't take his political theater too seriously.

"Oh, Pete's a hoot," Claudia Simplot-Nally, special assistant to the governor, told BW in Otter's outer office. "He's always in here about something or another. I keep telling him not to try so hard."

Peterson said the reason Idaho State Police Cpl. Steve Walker, assigned to the Statehouse, gave for not arresting him was that Peterson "had a right to protest and that unless it pushes into outright criminality, he wouldn't be arrested." And crossing into outright criminal acts is something Peterson isn't willing to do because he believes that would delegitimize his cause.

"The whole thing about civil disobedience is that it needs to be civil," he said.

Boise Weekly tried to confirm Peterson's statement, but Walker--who preferred to not to be interviewed--would only say, "that's between he and I."

When asked if he would have arrested someone more able-bodied, Walker said, "That's all you're going to get from me."

With the possible exception of Walker, folks are friendly enough about Peterson--Luna even told Peterson he was "a rascal" when Peterson handed the school superintendent a Recall Luna leaflet.

But Peterson said, it "frustrates me endlessly" not being considered as a threat. He said citizens are "still furious" about the way the Idaho Legislature "doubled down" on Luna's education reforms, even after being rejected by voters in November 2012.

"To me, [the Legislature is] arrogant and disconnected," Peterson said. "They feel they can override what the people want."

Peterson needs to get 138,136 signatures to put a Luna recall on a statewide ballot.

"It's a big number," Peterson said. "But when you look at the hundreds of thousands of people that voted against the Luna Laws, it looks doable to me."

To do that, Peterson wants to build a coalition of different groups he feels are disenfranchised by Idaho's ruling elite.

"The teachers are too defeated to do it on their own," he said. "Their morale is crushed."

Rather than sporting a mask or handcuffing himself to a seat of power like the Legislature, Peterson will be pursuing other, arguably more "traditional," ways to build a coalition--as long as they're funny.

"There are more of us than there are of them," he said. "Humor and is the key."