Writings and observations

Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy

There’s some special deference given in the law to “deathbed statements,” the idea being that motivation for lying, or for shading the truth, is taken to be diminished as we reach the end. Maybe the same is true for officeholders too: With announcements of retirement, we sometimes hear blunt words not always audible previously.

Washington Treasurer Michael Murphy said last week he will not run again when his office is up for election next year (setting up a watchable contest among the ambitious). He has made some points on earlier occasions similar to those he made last week, but they somehow didn’t stick in the mind quite so well.

He has delivered useful commentary, for instance, on the financing of capital projects: ““Lack of transparency and public oversight of capital projects creates an environment where public tax dollars can too easily be squandered and insider deal-making can proliferate. Good public policy mandates that state agencies use both the lowest cost financing method and the lowest cost capital project delivery method, while following the policy directives that are embodied in the public works laws, such as competition and transparency.”

Compare that to this, from last week: “My experience with public-private partnerships is that the private party gets rich and the public gets screwed.”

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Sort of, and it isn’t ours, though the rationale is credible enough.

This year will bring the mayoral (and councilmanic) election in Boise, with a November runoff if no one takes a clear majority. Mayor David Bieter is expected to run for another term, and there’s been, for at least two years, a widespread presumption about who his opponent (chief opponent, at least) will be. The Boise Guardian (David Frazier) is predicting that presumption will materialize, in the person of Council member Jim Tibbs.

Jim Tibbs
Jim Tibbs

They have history. Not long after taking office as mayor – he had just barely won a clear majority in 2003 – Bieter had to select a new police chief. Tibbs, who had served in the Boise force for a third of a century and was at that point interim chief, had substantial support, but didn’t get Bieter’s nod. Talk emerged almost immediately that Tibbs would run for council in 2005 and, if he won, would challenge Bieter in 2007. In fact he did run and win in 2005. So, now: Will he run?

Evidently there’s been nothing definite, but the Frazier suggests that he’s seen enough indicators to call it. And maybe he will. As Frazier points out, Tibbs is in mid-term; if he loses for mayor, he still stays on the council.

Still, we’ll hold off any predictions for now.

David Bieter
David Bieter

You’ll find plenty of people in Boise who say the opposite. Former Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman says in a Guardian comment that “The only question about the Tibbs/Bieter mayoral race is whether Chuck Winder will jump in too. Either way, I predict Tibbs will win, hands down.” Another: “I have to agree, Tibbs will wallop Bieter at the polls, I would not waste the money if I were him.” Another: “All Jim Tibbs has to do to be mayor is run.” (Be it noted here, that none of those comments reflect Frazier’s own post.)

Our take remains that Bieter is well positioned. When he won in 2003 his background as a Democrat (he served as such in the Idaho House) would hurt his chances of even clearing the runoff; instead, he won outright. Since then, all political indicators have suggested that his partisan background may be of more advantage than not, to the extent it matters.

And to the extent it doesn’t, he’s still not badly positioned. Bieter has developed a roster of critics, of course (and we’re not arguing here his record is flawless). But his opposition seems to consist of small and widely scattered groups. In a larger sense, there’s no real brief against Bieter – some sense that he’s doing something wrong, enough to rise up and fire him. There’s no major issue that most of the city is worked up about to use against him as a lever (or hammer). Nor does he have a major personal issue. He may not be a super policy wonk or a brilliant orator, but he’s a likable guy, and that makes up for a lot. Arguers for his political weakness seem to have difficulty coming up with specific reasons why.

There’s also this as an indicator: If Tibbs doesn’t run, there’s no immediate indication of any top-tier opponent for Bieter at all. There’s no long line of prospects.

It may be a race. Much can happen between here and there.

AMENDMENT This post has been edited to reflect the election date in November, rather than in May, as originally posted (and thanks to the commenter for drawing attention to that point).

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