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Boise Mayor On Keeping Capital City Safe During Legislative Session


In dueling shadows of a pandemic and rising political tensions, keeping Idaho's capital city safe has taken on a special urgency.  

"We know that there are steps that have to be taken," said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. While the city's public health order remains in effect, there are some members of the Idaho Legislature who choose not to abide by safety protocols while the pandemic continues to rage. Couple that with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and the pending inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, and "safety" is the watchword.

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to share her message for the just-convened legislature and the delicate balance of protecting free speech while having no tolerance for ugly behavior.

“There are steps that we need to take to keep everyone safe, so that government can do what government must do: make decisions for the betterment of our community.”


Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News Good morning, I’m George Prentice.  Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is here, Mayor McLean good morning, and happy New Year.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. Happy New Year. Thanks so much for having me back.

PRENTICE: I'd like to talk a bit about what's happening… well, right down the block from you: the Idaho Legislature is back in full, at the height of a pandemic and a public health order here in Boise. When I read the city's order, it includes the use of face masks. It reads, “If possible, work from home.” And, “If you're 65 or older, avoid contact with people not in your house.” So, what is your message this morning to the legislature?

Credit Courtesy Lauren McLean

MCLEAN: Well, first, I'd like to welcome the legislature back to Boise. And we are the capital city and all of us are really proud of that. And while there are many times we disagree, there's a lot of good work that we do together as well. But I'd say that this is a different year. As you mentioned, the legislature decided to convene in person at the height of a pandemic. And we have overall security concerns, that our residents have, as have some elected officials. And so, I'd say to legislators what I've said all along to the public after welcoming them, of course, and that is we are laser-focused on ensuring that our businesses can remain open and our economy remain as strong as possible during these tough, tough times so that we can recover… to ensure that all of our residents have the opportunity to make a good living in the long run. And we do that by being mindful of others. So, as you enjoy our businesses, our restaurants, our vibrant downtown, I'd ask each of you to please be mindful of the impact that we each have on each other and the importance of following protocols and on the streets of Boise our order to ensure that businesses remain open and our economy remains as strong as possible.

PRENTICE: The events in Washington, D.C., last week cast a pretty long, wide shadow across the country. I can't help but think that you've been talking more about keeping our public buildings and our places of congregations safe. And I also assume that you've been talking to Police Chief [Ryan] Lee about all of this.

MCLEAN: Yes, of course. I'm briefed regularly, and have been for the last several months, on security concerns and security precautions that we're taking; because we are committed to keeping our residents and our city safe. And with the start of the legislature and the events of last week, we know that there are steps that have to be taken. And we've also learned, as we've seen, an uptick in aggression, whether it be towards elected officials and agencies that have been forced to make decisions at the local level regarding the pandemic, that there are steps that we need to take to keep everyone safe so that government can do what government must do: make decisions for the betterment of our community.

PRENTICE: Can you speak to our listeners about the level of safety in our public buildings in the city?

MCLEAN: Well, we have two things that we're balancing. We're balancing health, safety, of course, and our City Hall remains closed; and we're encouraging everyone to conduct as much business with the city digitally as possible, and we encourage businesses to keep their employees home. And then there's also the very real questions we have around making sure that our community is safe, as the legislature convenes and people exercise the right to peacefully protest within our community as the capital city. But I also want to be clear that our ability, whether it be police actions or protecting the community, ends at the Statehouse, because that is overseen by State Police.

PRENTICE: That said, we've seen some free speech turn into ugly moments in Boise. Some people have threatened clerks over face mask orders. Some people have gone to the private homes of public officials. There were dozens of people outside your home in late November with tiki torches. Can you talk about that very delicate balance?

MCLEAN:  I've said all along, and I want to point out that the protests at my home started in July and they took place most Sundays through the end of summer. And we had a bit of a reprieve. And then they returned in the dark this fall. And I recognized all along that we have a right to peacefully assemble. We have a right to free speech. Those are bedrock rights in our community and nation, and I truly value them. And what we've seen is a change in expectations of our mores, around how we exercise those. And what is never OK is when they slip into violence. And we always, since July, have worked as a city to ensure that people that are assembling peacefully to state their piece are able to do so; but we are prepared to address violence or to prevent violence if we believe that we're almost there in each of these matters. And we'll continue to do that now and into the foreseeable future,

PRENTICE: Mayor McLean, I look forward to days where we talk about nothing but policy. Goodness knows there is much work to do this year.

MCLEAN:  When you think back to the very intense, passionate fights we have over policy in this community and the future of this community, they're so incredibly important to the democratic process. And I truly look forward to when that is the big news of the day…and the hard work ahead, which we're doing while addressing all these other things.

PRENTICE: And one final question: I have to assume that you're looking forward to January 20th and the inauguration of a new president who you openly supported.

MCLEAN: Yes, I did support President-elect Biden; and do look forward to that day. There is much on his plate from a policy perspective, making sure that the vaccines roll out more smoothly, that our economy recovers, and that we address climate change. But now, more than ever, we need a resolute, focused moral leader who believes in the bedrock of our democracy. And so much of that is freedom and civic engagement. I truly look forward to partnering with him and with leaders around this country to do what each of us has a responsibility to do. And as Vaclav Havel once wrote, “It is to remind people that hidden within us is a genuine goodness and that society works best when we are all working together.”

PRENTICE: Mayor McLean, thank you.

MCLEAN: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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