Joe Palmer, Meridian mayoral candidate, says city must become friendlier to business

Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-day series profiling the four most prominent candidates for mayor of Meridian in the Nov. 5 election.

Joe Palmer says he doesn’t like government much.

His family life has shaped that, along with his personal experiences. Palmer, 55, was introduced to elections when he was 8 years old and his dad, E.C. “Chuck” Palmer, ran for Ada County sheriff in 1972.

Chuck Palmer was sheriff from 1973 to 1985, but his career ended after a few high-profile incidents. The first was when 17-year-old Christopher Peterman, jailed for not paying $73 in traffic fines, was beaten to death by fellow inmates in 1982. The second was a year later, when Mike Palmer, Chuck’s son and Joe’s brother, crashed a county airplane when scouting for deer in Custer County; a man in the plane later died of his injuries.

The media coverage of both events was hard on his father — and on Joe. Palmer said it has made him hesitant to talk to reporters. It also made him decide he’d “never have anything to do with public service.”

Watching government inefficiencies changed his mind, he said — particularly after he found himself having to jump through governmental hoops to take down a building in 2008 and was almost charged a fine by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to meet requirements he didn’t know existed.

“That day, I was steaming mad. It was the first day to run for the Legislature, to sign up,” he said. He was dirty from work he had been doing. “I went to the Capitol, walked in and I said ‘Where do you sign up to be the boss?’”

A Republican, he ran against Keith Bird, a member of the Meridian City Council, and won House Seat 20A by more than 10,000 votes. He has kept the seat and is the chairman of the House Transportation & Defense Committee.

Now he wants to be the mayor of Meridian, one of five candidates seeking to succeed outgoing Mayor Tammy de Weerd. He has the benefit of name recognition, having been elected to the House in 2008 and re-elected five times, never winning less than 65% of the vote in a general election.

Daniel Weston, who has run against Palmer as a Constitution Party candidate in the last two elections, says he admires that Palmer is a “good family man,” a good parent and grandparent. He doesn’t like the way Palmer handles the public interest.

“He shows up, goes to work, attends regularly, which is a lot better than some politicians,” Weston said. “But when your constituents come to you and tell you they have concerns, you have to get back to them, even if it’s to tell them you can’t do anything about it.”

Palmer says he always makes it a priority to listen to his constituents, but there are people who get missed, especially on issues where he gets 1,500 emails.

“All I can do is the best I can do,” Palmer said.

Palmer says he would step down from the Legislature if elected, although he hasn’t decided when — he might need time to wrap up a few loose strings.

He runs Cherry’s Consignment, the store he owns with his wife just a few blocks from Meridian City Hall. But right now, he says his focus is on winning on Nov. 5.

Rep. Joe Palmer, a Republican representing District 20A, is now running to be mayor of Meridian. After more than a decade in the statehouse, he wants to bring his legislative experience to Meridian City Hall. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Palmer’s family ties

His other major focus, he said, is his family.

He’s been with his wife, Leslie, for 33 years. Palmer met her while serving on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Montana. Once he returned from his mission, he called her.

“She said, ‘Yeah, we should probably meet each other on a different type of basis,’” he said.

He accompanied her to a family reunion in Oregon. The next weekend, his brothers flew him to meet her partway while she drove from her home in California up to Boise for a visit. He drove her car the rest of the way. By the time they got to the city, they were planning their wedding.

Joe and Leslie Palmer raised four children and now have seven grandchildren. Leslie’s mother lives with them, and his mother lives nearby so Palmer can check on her often.

The couple started Cherry’s Consignment in March 2003 after seeing a different consignment store that turned them away from taking their furniture because of a weeks-long backlog. Cherry’s has grown to occupy several combined buildings with furniture strategically arranged to allow for lots of furniture and a little room to walk.

The store grew quickly at first. When the Great Recession struck, Palmer had to lay off some employees and eventually sold their house.

They moved into the store, thinking they would stay until the economy improved. After he talked about that in a meeting, Palmer said, the police showed up and told them they couldn’t live in the store because it wasn’t zoned for residential use. The Palmers went back and forth with the city about making a change that would allow them to live there.

“I didn’t feel like I need to go to the government and ask permission to live on my own property,” Palmer said. “It was a temporary thing, and I see no need for that.”

He eventually got permission from the City Council to live in the space, but the Palmers finally moved out after city inspectors came to look at the space and saw it didn’t have a firewall, Palmer said. It would have been impossible to build one, he said, so he called a real estate agent and asked for the cheapest house in his district.

Making Meridian business-friendly

Palmer says several local politicians asked him to run after De Weerd said in February that she would not pursue re-election. His platform, he said, is to make Meridian easier on businesses (“Meridian is not friendly to business,” he told the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board) and to emphasize family values.

Palmer said he has no specific complaints about the way de Weerd has done things but he’s seen “little things here and here” that he’d like to shift in certain departments.

He says Meridian is a “bedroom community” for Boise, and he wants to help more people to work where they live.

He has won him financial support from numerous fellow state legislators as well as a few businesses around the Treasure Valley. He’s won over conservative causes as well — the Idaho Chooses Life PAC gave him $1,000, for example. In fundraising, he’s second among the five mayoral candidates, behind Robert Simison, with $62,980 to Simison’s $99,316 through Sept. 30.

What voters value most, Leslie Palmer said, is that her husband is always honest with them. She tells a story of a liberal woman they met who originally said she couldn’t vote for Palmer for mayor because of his conservative stances.

“He said, “Well, I’m just telling you the truth. I’m not gonna lie to you,’” she recalled. “’If you don’t vote with me that’s your choice, but, you know, this is the truth.’ Then she says to me, ‘OK, give me a yard sign.’ She said she didn’t like his ideas, but she said he was honest. That’s good.”

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.