People complain when local politicians start piling up term after term.
They grumble about “career politicians” and debate the merits of term limits for the offices in question.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter faces some of that sentiment this year as he seeks a fourth four-year term. In the city’s 150-year history, no Boise mayor has served so long. Dick Eardley served three full terms from 1974 to 1986 before he was succeeded by Dirk Kempthorne.
In 2003, Brent Coles resigned one year into his third term.
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Bieter’s experience will be a two-edged sword between now and the election. On one hand, Bieter’s three election victories will give him a logistics advantage, said Stephanie Witt, a politics professor at Boise State University.
“In terms of knowing the machinery of setting up your volunteers to, you know, drop literature or make phone calls or solicit funds, you’ve got that all figured out by then,” Witt said. “They have the established get-out-the-vote machinery.”
On the other hand, some voters will be tired of seeing the same name on their ballots.
“But whether the voters just become interested in a change just to be interested in a change — I don’t know,” Witt said.
Bieter’s challengers are Judy Peavey-Derr, herself a seasoned local politician, and Seth Holden, an unknown. They have plenty of fodder to use against the incumbent, partly because no one who’s held office for 12 years can avoid unpopular stances.
Holden, 25, said his main beef is that Bieter’s been at it too long.
“I don’t really care for career politicians,” he said.
Myron Gilbert, a former Ada County sheriff who dropped out of the race Sept. 18 and threw his support behind Peavey-Derr, criticized Bieter for making the Boise community ombudsman — now called the head of the Office of Police Oversight — a part-time position.
Peavey-Derr said she’d like to see more attention placed on Boise’s outlying neighborhoods, especially newly annexed areas on the south and west sides.
Peavey-Derr also criticized Bieter for taking part in a long series of tax increases. She pointed out that the city’s tax levy has increased almost 30 percent since the first budget Bieter presided over in 2004.
Here’s Bieter’s response: In his tenure, the Municipal Cost Index, which measures the cost of services that cities and counties deliver, has gone up 39 percent, according to American City and County Magazine, which developed the index and has tracked it since 1978. The municipal index is relevant to Boise’s spending because the city buys different goods and services than civilian consumers, the cost of which is measured by the Consumer Price Index.
Big increases in the prices of fuel and health care have hit the city’s budget especially hard, Bieter said, requiring more tax money to keep services going. On top of that, he cited services the city has added in his time as mayor, including more than a dozen new or planned parks and four new library branches.
Peavey-Derr argues that Boise taxes are becoming burdensome, especially for seniors who live on Social Security. To fix the problem, she said, she would avoid the kinds of court cases that have cost the city millions by cooperating better with potential opponents. She also said she’d look for savings in every department.
“If we watch what we’re spending, we don’t have to collect as much,” Peavey-Derr said. “Having been a county commissioner for years, I can tell you that there isn’t one department that doesn’t stack the deck a bit when it comes to a budget and they build in a little fat. And we need to, for taxpayers, give and provide some relief to our seniors, because our seniors aren’t enjoying any fat.”
Bieter disagreed. He cited a citywide survey from 2013 in which 75 percent of respondents said they were receiving good or excellent value for their tax dollars.
“I don’t have a better indicator than that,” Bieter said. “What people care about is, ‘Am I getting value for my money?’ And there’s no question that they are, but even more importantly, they tell us that they are.”
IS IT ENOUGH?
The challengers’ criticisms of Bieter might have some traction, Witt said.
And there’s no doubt Peavey-Derr can put together a powerful campaign machine herself.
But beating an incumbent in local elections usually requires some sort of scandal, widespread discontent or a general “throw-out-the-bums” sentiment, Witt said.
“I don’t really see any of that,” she said.
The fact that Bieter’s name doesn’t appear in the paper or on TV every day could work in his favor and blunt any fatigue that’s out there, Witt said.
“It’s better to be probably under the radar than to be in the news because something bad is happening,” she said.