They'll Be Back

Yes! Yes! coalition vows to return in 2014


Yes, the glass was half full (and then some) but no one was making a victory toast. When the noise subsided from the well-financed, highly organized campaign to push two so-called "livability" bonds through a two-thirds majority of Boise voters, the "Yes! Yes! for Boise" effort was a bit more like "Almost! Almost!"

"Look, I wish we had got a super-majority. I don't want to paper over that, but the vast majority of our community is saying, 'Why aren't we doing this? Let's fund our open spaces and parks. Let's make sure our fire facilities have the funds they need.' That was an overwhelming statement," said John Reuter, executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. "Unfortunately, because of the Idaho Constitution, it wasn't enough."

Indeed, the Gem State's constitution, Article VIII, Section 3, only allows county or municipal indebtedness with "the assent of two-thirds of the qualified electors."

The campaign needed 66.7 percent of voters to foot the bill for a $17.2 million bond (including issuance costs) for fire safety and another $15.7 million (again, including issuance costs) for open space and public park investments. But the fire bond secured 64 percent of the vote while the open space bond received just shy of 62 percent.

"When we first started this campaign, I was very skeptical," said Reuter. "It was only when we saw the volunteers and the ground game come together did I think this was possible."

When Boise Weekly asked if success would have been possible had the campaign stretched 30 more days, Reuter didn't hesitate a moment to say "yes."

"Thirty more days would have been great. I think momentum was with us. The [polling] numbers were moving pretty dramatically upward," he said, adding that in the final hours of the campaign, a two-thirds victory was in sight. "Initially, I thought breaking 60 [percent] was a really big deal. And I honestly thought we might go 65 to 67 percent."

Reuter's organization had significant skin in the game: Conservation Voters for Idaho was the campaign's biggest donor.

"Our contribution was about $30,000 of in-kind donations," he said. "That's real money that was spent."

In addition to the use of CVI's office space to house phone banks, where some volunteers worked as many 15 separate shifts, Reuter told BW that his organization's cash was spent on field operations, specifically neighborhood canvassing.

The face of the campaign--certainly in the final weeks of the effort--became Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, pitching for Yes! Yes! votes in a flurry of campaign mailings and holding sway at a high-profile City Club forum on the issues.

"Let me say this about Mayor Bieter: He always put the campaign first," said Reuter. "It was never about his political future. It was always about the needs of the city. I would not criticize the mayor about where his heart was, or where his head was. The mayor is vindicated. He doesn't bear sole responsibility in the outcome."

In fact, Bieter walked into the campaign offices of the Yes! Yes! coalition on the morning after the defeat, in order to tell campaign workers, "These are great numbers," according to Reuter.

"Yes, I was with the mayor that morning," Bieter spokesman Adam Park told BW. "He doesn't feel as bad about the losses as you would expect. He said we could build upon that level of support and find other ways to get these projects completed. Everything is on the table."

Boiseans should know that the table, according to Reuter, would include three prime options: a revised bond vote in November 2014; a possible supplemental levy, which would also need voter approval; or the possibility of a local-option tax--though most Statehouse pundits think that would be a tough slog to pull through the Idaho Legislature.

"Make no mistake, we'll be back; I think we'll be back within a year, by next November, with another request to Boise voters," said Reuter, adding, "I'm sure that there are other people on the same page. But I don't speak for them. I'm not saying what the actual package will look like, but we're not backing down."

And a similar campaign would need just as much money and enthusiasm. This year's Yes! Yes! effort was backed by nearly 250 volunteers.

"Some of them have stopped by the office in the last few days to let us know that they want to keep working with us," said Reuter. "Despite being a cynical political hack, I keep finding myself surprisingly inspired by their dedication to our community."