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Bieter’s network: money and influence give sitting mayor strong political power in Boise

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In 2003, Dave Bieter seemed like a longshot.

The 44-year-old attorney had about four years of political experience under his belt in the Idaho Statehouse. He stepped into the legislative role of his father, after both parents died in a car crash in 1999.

Boise City Hall carried open wounds from the administration of H. Brent Coles. A nearly year-long odyssey included all the makings of tabloid TV: hints of affairs, misuse of funds – even the security footage of the police chief carrying stolen items back into city hall.

Coles resigned. The city council president, Carolyn Terteling-Payne stepped in on an interim basis, but said she wouldn’t run to replace Coles permanently.

That left an open net for the mayor’s race that fall.

The race was crowded.

Chuck Winder threw his hat in the race. He fit the Coles model: Republican, developer.

Vaughn Killeen sensed an opening too. The sitting Republican Ada County Sheriff might have thought the populace would go for a law and order type in the wake of Coles.

Max Mohamaddi, the well-known owner of The Cazba restaurant also rolled the dice on the race.

And then there was Dave Bieter.

A change at Boise City Hall

While Kileen and Winder were the latest conservatives to run for the top at Boise City Hall, Bieter came from a democratic seat in the Idaho legislature. Up until that time, Boise had a long string of Republicans in the office on city hall’s third floor.

But Bieter took a majority of votes – dropping the notion of a potential runoff. He brought strong ties to the area’s Basque community, and liberal credentials that marked a change in direction.

Now, sixteen years later, Bieter is 59 – and hopes to extend his run into the third decade of his life with another term in office.

In the time since he bucked the status quo, Bieter himself rose to prominence in Idaho democratic politics. Long rumored for bigger political jobs – Bieter keeps rolling up to Boise City Hall to work each day.

Now – the mayor is the status quo – and has built a significant political machine.

But much of that machine remains opaque. Shrouded in campaign filings. Known by a few. Assumed by many.

The Boise Weekly’s George Prentice called Bieter “Probably Idaho’s most-successful modern-day politician.” That success is built largely on two things: connections — and cash.

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The network

When preparing this story, to get it straight, the most obvious metaphor seemed like a network diagram. What started as a sketch on paper evolved into the interactive graphic above.

Politics in Boise aren’t simple. The Ada County Highway District, Greater Boise Auditorium District and Ada County Commission all play a part (not to mention neighboring cities and the Idaho Statehouse).

Many of the elected officials also have past ties by way of donations to Lauren McLean, who is running against Bieter for the mayor’s seat. But until campaign finance reports are due to the city later this year, we won’t know if that support continues with the head-to-head race.

[Deep Dive Analysis: With deep history, McLean & Bieter tilt toward showdown for Boise’s future]

Over time, Bieter worked to influence each of the entities to have a greater impact on Boise’s future. For some boards, like GBAD, Bieter now has close ties to a majority of the members. But on others – like ACHD – Bieter only has nominal influence.

Here’s how each breaks down.

Capital City Development Corporation

Just like his predecessors, Bieter appoints each of the members of the board of the urban renewal agency for Boise. Even before Bieter, the board included city council members in overlapping roles.

But for the first time, Bieter appointed himself to the CCDC board, where he currently serves as secretary & treasurer.

  • City council member Scot Ludwig also serves on the panel. Ludwig and his wife Christine are donors to past Bieter campaigns. Luwdig endorsed Bieter for this year’s mayoral race.
  • Ryan Woodings is the board vice-chair, and the spouse of city council member Holli Woodings. Holli Woodings is a Bieter campaign donor.
  • Dana Zuckerman, as board chair recently added additional duties at the City of Boise’s Design Review Commission. Bieter made the appointment earlier this year, which was approved by the other members of the Boise City Council. Zuckerman is a Bieter campaign donor.
  • Maryann Jordan is a former member of the council, a current state legislator, and Bieter donated to her past campaigns. Jordan endorsed Bieter for this year’s mayor’s race.
  • Gordon Jones, an employee at Boise State University, serves on the board at the recommendation of former BSU president Bob Kustra. Kustra and Bieter have had a very public falling out since the appointment was made.
  • Ben Quintana is a former Boise City Council member. Bieter backed him for council, and Quintana returned the favor.

Boise City Council

Boise’s legislative body is known for its penchant for unanimous votes. While Bieter rarely votes on the panel (he only says ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ in the event of a tie), he holds strong influence. His staff runs the majority of the agenda and steers policy.

  • Holli Woodings is one of the two newest members of the panel. She applied for an open position in 2014 that ultimately went to Scot Ludwig. After Jordan decided not to run again to focus on her work at the Idaho Statehouse, Woodings ran for her seat and won in 2017. She donated to Bieter’s 2015 campaign, and Bieter donated to her 2017 campaign.
  • Lisa Sanchez also ran for election in 2017, but not with Bieter’s support. Instead, she beat Frank Walker who took donations from Bieter, Scot Ludwig, Elaine Clegg and Maryann Jordan.
  • Lauren McLean was first appointed by Bieter in 2011, and ran unopposed in 2011 and 2015. She is now running against Bieter for mayor. McLean and Bieter traded campaign donations before the current political race began.
  • Scot Ludwig was first appointed by Bieter in 2015 and ran for reelection later that year. He and his wife Christina have made campaign donations to Bieter. Ludwig also serves on the Capital City Development Corporation board, appointed by Bieter. He is not running for reelection to the council seat.
  • TJ Thomson enjoys Bieter’s support, and the mayor marshaled political support for Thomson’s failed bid for Ada County commission in 2016. Bieter donated to Thomson’s campaign. Thomson endorsed Bieter for mayor.
  • Elaine Clegg is the longest-serving member of the council and has continuously backed Bieter along the way – as early as 2007.

Ada County Highway District

The mayor doesn’t much like ACHD. He makes it clear in speeches, at city council meetings and in person.

Of a five-member board – only one – Jim Hansen – is a candidate Bieter backed directly.

Bieter tried to run candidates against Sara Baker and Rebecca Arnold without success. Bieter-backed candidate Paul Woods actually got booted out of office last year by newcomer Mary May.

Bieter has largely stayed out of Kent Goldthorpe‘s race. He represents an area that for the most part does not overlap with Boise’s city limits.

ACHD’s political leadership and makeup stymie many of Bieter’s ideas around land use and transportation – and to date he has not been able to use his political capital to reshape the panel to bring about a set of policies more to his liking.

Ada County Commission

In the most recent round of elections, Bieter finally landed an ally on the Ada County Commission. Former staffer Diana Lachiondo mounted a successful campaign against incumbent Jim Tibbs to take a seat on the panel. Lachiondo is a past Bieter campaign donor, and Bieter contributed to Lachiondo’s campaign.

Kendra Kenyon beat former commissioner and perennial candidate Sharon Ulma to take the other open seat, joining sitting Republican Rick Visser on the three-member panel. Lachiondo and Kenyon are both Democrats – and both replaced Republicans to flip ideological control of the panel in one election. (The other incumbent, Dave Case, lost to Ulman in the Republican primary).

Greater Boise Auditorium District

The Greater Boise Auditorium, or GBAD as it is known, is perhaps the most under-the-radar but politically interesting body in Boise politics.

The district sits on a cash hoard of more than $15 million and growing – fueled by a room tax on motel and hotel stays in the Boise area.

All of its members have strong ties to Bieter.

  • Hy Kloc’s election campaign donated to Bieter in 2015. Klock endorsed Bieter for mayor. Bieter contributed to Kloc’s campaign.
  • Kristin Muchow unseated Judy Peavey-Derr two years ago with backing and contributions from Bieter (Peavey-Derr ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Bieter). Muchow’s husband Faisal Shah is a top Bieter campaign donor. Bieter contributed to Muchow’s campaign.
  • Jody Olson met privately with Bieter twice in the months leading up to his unopposed appointment to GBAD, according to schedules obtained by BoiseDev via a public records request. He is also a Bieter campaign donor.
  • Jim Walker is a Boise Firefighter and heads up the Boise Firefighters PAC, a top donor to Bieter’s campaign. The PAC recently endorsed Bieter in the mayoral campaign.
  • Peter Oliver is a principal at local commercial real estate firm Thornton Oliver Keller. TOK is also a Bieter campaign donor.

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