Tibbs v. Bieter

Jim Tibbs
Jim Tibbs

The battle for mayor of Boise is joined today: Council member Jim Tibbs is in the race to try to take out incumbent Mayor David Bieter. (He is preparing to announce as this is posted.)

Tibbs is a serious candidate with real political assets to bring to the table. He won a city council seat two years ago, showing some political capability and support. He has a significant base of personal support. And a lot of all that grew out of his community roots, decades serving on the city police force (quite visibly, in the later years), and his and his wife’s other varied community activities.

He might win; but we think (and we know this will draw rebuttals) his remains an uphill attempt.

Incumbency is a hard thing to beat, and incumbents ordinarily lose only when some sweeping move or series of bad mistakes work against them. Neither seems to be the case with Bieter. The political mood of the city seems to be moving more in his direction than otherwise; and while we won’t argue he’s run a perfect city hall, we get no sense that Boiseans have a compelling reason to fire him – which is what you usually need to oust an incumbent.

For his part, Tibbs’ statement on his web site is all positive and about himself. It makes a plausible case for Tibbs as mayor, highlighting his depth of background locally and his range of experience. But there’s no indication of why the incumbent needs to be fired, and that’s almost always a prerequisite for defeating an incumbent.

Of course, the race can take on new colors as it goes on. (And there’s no guarantee the race will be limited to these two.) It’ll be worth a watch, and it may have something to say about where Boise is headed in the next few years.

UPDATE Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert links to this post on his blog: “Northwest political writer Randy Stapilus offers a good early take on a Bieter-Tibbs race, making a good argument for why Tibbs faces an uphill struggle. I agree with Stapilus: the burden of proof is on the challenger to make the case to fire the incumbent, and that’s the essence of what Tibbs will have to do. I’d add one more proviso: I think Boise’s politics are evolving more to the left, and this favors Bieter, who served in the Legislatuire as a Democrat. Bieter is always the first guy to point out that city races are nonpartisan — and they are. But those voters who swung last fall to elect five Boise Democrats to the House are likely Bieter voters.”

We’d agree with that last point (and would note that we’ve made it ourselves on earlier occasions).

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