‘I’m ecstatic’: Outgoing Meridian mayor cheers as her top aide wins her job

Mayor Tammy de Weerd and a herd of city employees shouted with delight as the votes rolled in Tuesday night. Meridian residents chose her top aide, Robert Simison, the man who promised to keep Meridian going in the direction De Weerd set, to succeed her.

“We’re going to keep the city moving forward in the direction it has been — being safe, and family focused,” Simison told a crowd of supporters who had gathered at Gramercy Park Pizza & Grill on election night. “Mayor Tammy ... has allowed me to step in today and be confident on on Jan. 8 and take the baton and move our city forward.”

With all precincts counted, Simison had 6,871 votes (45.3%), compared with veteran state legislator Joe Palmer’s 4,918 (32.4%), outgoing City Councilwoman Anne Little Roberts’ 1,718 (11.3%), businessman Shaun Wardle’s 1,306 (8.6%) and newcomer Gina Johnson’s 344 (2.3%).

De Weerd had accepted the results before Simison did. “I’m so excited,” she shouted at an election watch party after around 80% of votes counted. “It is done.”

Simison said he was “totally at ease” as results came in — so much so that he didn’t monitor the tallies as the county clerk’s office kept updating results as precincts were counted.

Robert Simison, mayor-elect of Meridian, celebrates with his supporters as the results confirm his win. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“I’ve spent every election for the past 24 years watching the numbers come in. And for this election, I haven’t looked once,” Simison said.

De Weerd said she was “ecstatic.”

“I believe in Robert,” she said. “We can instantly work to integrate him into the mayor’s office. Robert already has a team set up…. Robert’s already thought of next steps and can put that in place, a 30-60-90-day plan.”

De Weerd, 59, known as Mayor Tammy, served four terms as mayor and led the city through enormous growth. She will leave office Jan. 7. Simison’s victory, she said, means that voters “have confidence that staying the course is how we will strengthen our city.”

Palmer, Simison were front-runners

Palmer and Simison had emerged as the two front-runners in the five-person race. Together they raised over $180,000, far outpacing their competitors.

Palmer, a 55-year-old Republican state representative who heads the House Transportation Committee, focused on improving transportation, reducing property taxes and spending, and getting rid of regulations he said prevent businesses from moving to Meridian. He benefited from his relationships with fellow Republican legislators, who flooded his campaign’s coffers with donations.

As of Oct. 31, he had received $83,605 in donations in individual contributions. A political action committee called Citizens for Responsible Growth, which raised $52,525, threw its support behind Palmer. He was also backed by the anti-abortion political action commission Idaho Chooses Life, which spent about $2,000 on his campaign.

Palmer’s son, Ty, said that his father will remain in the Idaho Legislature. He said his father pulled signs Tuesday and did not host an election watch party.

Ty Palmer said he was disappointed by Simison’s win.

“There’s so much those two have been getting away with using fear,” he said. “I worry because it worked, that it’ll be even more locked down.”

Robert Simison, mayor-elect of Meridian, celebrates with his supporters as the results confirm his win. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Simison wins backing of De Weerd, Ahlquist, Turnbull

Meanwhile, Simison, De Weerd’s chief of staff, found his greatest support in those who previously backed his boss. His campaign primarily focused on improving Meridian’s key city services like parks, police and fire safety. He also said he wants to leverage city funds to help fund transportation projects.

This fall, his campaign sent out a letter authored by De Weerd to voters encouraging them to back Simison. The letter helped to increase his recognition throughout the city and helped increase his popularity among those who appreciate the city’s direction under De Weerd.

Simison, 46, won endorsements from several former City Council members, developers like Tommy Ahlquist of Ball Ventures Ahlquist and David Turnbull of Brighton Corp., as well as the local firefighters’ union and The Idaho Statesman. He was also backed by Idaho Association of Realtors, whose PAC spent around $30,000 for his campaign. He received $106,840 in individual donations.

A Republican, Simison has never before won an elected office before. In 2012, he ran in the Republican primary for House District 21 in South Meridian, but lost to Steven Harris.

Mayor Meridian Voter Guide 2019
Joe Palmer, Anne Little Roberts, Shaun Wardle, Robert Simison, and Gina Johnson are running to be Meridian’s next mayor.

Wardle, Little Roberts mostly self-funded

Wardle and Anne Little Roberts mostly self-funded their campaigns with loans.

Roberts, a 58-year-old city councilwoman, owns DryJect turf aerating franchise with her husband. The cousin of Gov. Brad Little raised $28,938, of which $21,448 came from personal loans. She earned the endorsement of current city councilwoman Genesis Milam and called out the “special interest groups” donating to her opponents.

Wardle, a 44-year-old Meridian native and former councilman, owns D1 Sports Training and works as an associate at Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services. He raised $18,390, of which $16,000 came from personal loans.

With five candidates, it was possible that one candidate may not earn 50% of votes. But unlike Boise, Meridian city code does not have a runoff provision. The candidate who brings in the most votes wins, even if it’s not a majority.

Meridian City Council Candidates Voter Guide 2019
Brad Hoaglun, Elizabeth “Liz” Strader, Denise Hanson-LaFever, Jessica Perreault, Donna Lusignan, Joshua Valk and Jeffrey Miller are running for Meridian City Council.

Council: Strader backed by Bernt, Borton, Milam

Three City Council spots were also up for grabs in this election.

Four candidates ran for Seat 1, which is being vacated by Little Roberts: Donna Lusignan, Elizabeth “Liz” Strader, Michael Christianson and Rudolf “Rudy” L. Patrick.

Strader won, garnering 7,022 votes (53.3%), trailed by Christianson with 2,279 (17.3%), Patrick with 1,935 (14.7%) and Lusignan with 1,934 (14.7%).

Strader received the support of current council members Treg Bernt, Joe Borton, and Genesis Milam, as well as the Meridian firefighters’ alliance, the Conservation Voters of Idaho and the Meridian Idaho Neighborhood Alliance.

Only one person, Brad Hoaglun, ran for Seat 3, and he had 100% of votes cast (11,337 with 35 of 37 precincts in). Hoaglun is a communications director at the Christian nonprofit Mission Aviation Fellowship, which provides flights and delivery of emergency supplies in remote corners of the world. He previously served on the City Council from 2008 to 2013.

The seat is currently held by Ty Palmer, son of Joe Palmer. Ty Palmer decided not to run for a second term.

Four people ran for Seat 5, held by Genesis Milam: Jeffrey Miller, Jessica Perreault, Denise Hanson-LaFever, and Joshua Valk. Milam decided not to run for a second term.

Perreault won. With 35 of 37 precincts reporting at 10:47 p.m., she had 6,041 votes (46.7%), while Miller had 3,059 (23.7%), Hanson-LaFever 2,684 (20.8%) and Valk 1,139 (8.8%).

Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd, center, and Robert Simison’s campaign manager Eric Cawley, left, watch election returns. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com


The Ada County Clerk’s Office said 15,223 of 54,303 registered voters cast ballots in Meridian, a 28% turnout.

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.