FiveThirtyEight’s team of analysts, including Harry Enten and Nate Silver, asked Bieter what it’s like being the mayor of a city dominated by Democrats in a state that’s overwhelmingly Republican. Ada County itself leans only slightly Republican, largely because Boise makes up more than half of its population — a rarity in a country whose voting precincts are becoming increasingly red or blue instead of a mixture.
Within the Treasure Valley itself, Bieter said, there is broad cooperation.
“Other mayors and other elected officials that I encounter, with some notable exceptions — Mike Moyle — we can have a conversation,” he said to a hearty laugh from the audience and questions from the FiveThirtyEight panel on why that was funny.
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Moyle, a Republican who is the Idaho House majority leader, and Bieter have been frequent antagonists on a variety of government and political topics.
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At times, Bieter pointed out, the city has taken a stand on national issues.
The most recent example was the city’s passage in January of a proclamation that Boise is a “welcoming city.” The proclamation was an obvious response to President Donald Trump’s travel ban blocking immigrants from seven countries mostly peopled with Muslims.
Another example came early in President Barack Obama’s presidency, when the council passed a resolution stating its preference for a health care model that included a federal option for health insurance. Though the “public option” was part of Congress’ initial discussion, it was not included in Obamacare.
But Bieter said he and the City Council are generally a “cautious bunch” when it comes to national issues. For example, he pointed out that the January proclamation stopped short of identifying Boise as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.
Bieter said that kind of declaration is tantamount to implying the city has more authority than it might have.
A similar interplay is in effect with state politics, he said. He said the city talked for a while about raising its minimum wage before the state took that option off the table. After a well-publicized dispute between Boise and Uber, the Legislature took away cities’ authority to regulate ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
“If we raise our heads too high, they’re going to lop them off,” Bieter said. “We have to walk a tough line, and by and large we’ve pushed as far as we could without raising our profile so high they’re after us all the time.”
The FiveThirtyEight team also asked the mayor about the Basque influence in Boise. Bieter, whose mother’s side is Basque, spoke a couple of lines in the language. He also admitted the Basque vote helped him win his first mayoral election in 2003.
“It's really hard to track the Basque vote, and believe me, we’ve tried to do that,” he said.