Stay in elective office long enough, the sages say, and for the voters the time will come when it’s too long. That can be true even if the voters aren’t really interested in a major change of direction.
Consider the different stories told by the Meridian and Boise mayoral elections on Tuesday.
In Meridian, four-term mayor Tammy de Weerd decided not to run for a fifth term this year. The campaign to replace her was not especially contentious but did draw five candidates, several of them serious contenders. One was a long-time state legislator who raised quite a bit of money (his signs seemed to be all over town). But the easy winner was a city staff person: de Weerd’s chief of staff, Robert Simison, who was backed by much of the local business community and many civic groups. De Weerd will depart, but an approach not too different from hers probably will continue under Simison.
Boise is a somewhat different situation even though, remarkably, it too has (as of right now) a four-term mayor, David Bieter.
Unlike de Weerd, Bieter opted to run for a fifth term. And that seems to have been a bridge too far.
The longest-serving mayor before him was Richard Eardley, who served three terms and decided in 1985 that would be enough. (As a reporter who closely covered the 1985 Boise elections, I would suggest that Eardley’s political instincts were on target.) First elected in 2003, Bieter had light opposition in his next three re-election campaigns. But time takes its toll.
I’ve spoken to quite a few people who supported Bieter in past elections (and still would give a strong thumbs-up to his years as mayor overall) but not this time. He and his approach to the job, and the city, have changed, they say - in their view at least. His administration was transparent and open in earlier years; now, they say, there’s more of a tendency to ram through mayoral and city hall preferences.
And it’s not hard to pinpoint some of what they meant: Two major elements of that were on the ballot alongside the mayoral race: Local propositions, both requiring voter approval before the city could proceed with work above a certain dollar level on major projects (one related to the main city library, the other to sport stadium development). One of those passed with 69 percent of the vote, the other with 75 percent. Both results were direct rebukes of Bieter, since he had proposed pushing through both projects without a popular vote. (The fact that both issues were on the ballot also served as an immediate reminder of what many Boiseans were complaining about.)
So when about three-fourths of Boise voters chose someone other than the incumbent for mayor, the pieces fit together cleanly.
It also suggests the likely results of the runoff election next month. To win, Bieter would have to make up a tremendous portion of the vote that went against him; few incumbents in this kind of position manage such a large burden.
The rebuke here is one of style and approach more than of general policy. Lauren McLean, the city council member who took about 45 percent of the vote to Bieter’s 30 percent - about half again as many - originally was appointed to the council by Bieter, and over the years they usually have been on the same side on most city policies. The larger direction taken by Boise city hall likely would not change greatly in a McLean administration.
But if McLean does take over in January, she will enter office with a message having been made and delivered: Be transparent and work in concert with the will of the voters. Or face the consequences.
Next election season is just four years away.