The Trifecta

Christian conservatives motivated for the polls


When Andrew Yoder and his fellow gay-rights activists heard that Boiseans might vote on the placement of the 10 Commandments monument this fall, he was less than enthused.

"When we heard the news today, we were just like, 'Fantastic,'" he said wearily.

Yoder is the campaign manager for Idaho Votes No!, a group founded to combat a statewide ballot measure that would restrict all forms of union that are not a marriage between a man and a woman.

Now, his job has gotten much harder. When the Idaho Supreme Court ruled last Monday that Boiseans should vote, after all, on whether Boise should display the Ten Commandments, Christian conservatives in Idaho got one more reason to go to the polls. Late on Monday, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter announced the city would hold a November election on the issue.

First, conservatives had the anti-gay-marriage initiative, brought by the Idaho Legislature. Then, they had the candidacy of Rep. Bill Sali, a Christian activist legislator running for Congress in District 1. Now, they have the potent symbol of their religion, the Ten Commandments, front and center, in Idaho's capital city.

"These are the hot-button issues that the Christian conservative moement would like to use to increase their voter turnout," said Ross Burkhart, a political science professor at Boise State. "This would be a good development for their turnout aspirations."

Bryan Fischer, who heads the Idaho Values Alliance, calls it "the trifecta."

"I say to people in the pro-family community, if you care about these values, here's a chance to take your convictions to the polls," Fischer said.

"All of these issues will help the other issues," said Brandi Swindell, a Christian activist who, like Fischer, was also celebrating the Ten Commandments news.

Each issue, on its own, may not yet have enough election-day momentum, however. Swindell, whose name recognition in Boise politics springs primarily from her participation in the Ten Commandments issue, did not have enough votes to get her over the top in a campaign for Boise City Council against City Council president Maryanne Jordan. In the 2005 race for that seat, Jordan won handily against Swindell's much-vaunted base.

Likewise Sali, although he has the support of national conservative groups who are funneling money into his campaign and who this week has Vice President Dick Cheney campaigning on his behalf, has yet to demonstrate a universal appeal, if results from the June Republican primary are any indicator. Sali won about 25 percent of a low-turnout primary against other Republican candidates.

Sali's Democratic opponent, Larry Grant, for his part, doesn't think a Boise city vote will turn a Congressional election.

"From the standpoint of my race, I don't have that many Boise voters," Grant said.

Yoder said the electoral pileup may eventually benefit his group when it comes to fundraising and motivation of activists.

"This is one of those critical times in Idaho's history when we just have to dig really deep," Yoder said. "We're just going to have to make extra sacrifices and work extra hard."

The seriousness of the election, at least, is one thing Yoder and Swindell agree upon.