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Spuds & Duds 2011

Looking back on the highs and lows of the year that was

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Dud of the Year

Late in August, young Kaytlyn Harris of Coeur d'Alene waited at the Kootenai County fairgrounds for her father to arrive with her 4-H pig. Since April, Harris had been preparing Thunder (the pig) for show, and in that interval, Thunder had blossomed from 50 pounds to 300 pounds.

It is unclear how Thunder managed to free himself from the constraints meant to keep him in the back of Mr. Harris' truck for the trip to the fairgrounds, but that is indeed what Thunder managed to do. Once free, he made the unfortunate decision to bail out--300 pounds of pig hit the pavement at a speed faster than all but the very brightest swine would comprehend. He survived the jump, but his leg was broken, making him worthless as a show pig.

Poor Thunder did not survive the ensuing trip to the butcher.

Kaytlyn was devastated, reported the Coeur d'Alene Press. Months of labor and love, hopes and dreams, poop-scooping and slopping the hog, all come to naught. And all because Thunder thought he could fly.

You may wonder why I chose the story of Thunder and Kaytlyn for 2011's Dud of the Year award, especially when this year has been so ripe with raw Dud material. After all, in subsequent years, few people will remember how Thunder met his tragic end, while the effects of Tom Luna's education reforms, for instance, will linger on like scar tissue.

Yet there is something about the sad tale of Thunder that seemed to me to be an apt allegory for so much of what has been going on in Idaho politics since January. So much bloated energy, so many wasted words, so great an effort to turn the trivial into something meaningful ... and then, that big splat! when the blubber hits the road.

Sen. Mike Crapo and the Gang of Six solve the deficit problem? ... splat!

Nullification? ... splat!

The campaign to win parents over to Luna's reforms? ... splat!

Perhaps in another year, I could convince my bosses at BW to convert the Spuds and Duds into the "Annual Thunder the Pig Memorial Issue." Can't you see it now? The good items could be given a "Fly on, Pig" designation--the visual representation being a cute little porker with angelic wings--while the bad things get a vomity mess denoting ... you guessed it ... splat!

Until then, here are the rest of 2011's Spuds and Duds.


Students Come Wholesale

The Scheme

"I've seen good, outstanding teachers and support staff continually demoralized by policies set at our state leadership level." --Dennis Burt of Coeur d'Alene, speaking at the public hearings on the education reforms.

When considering the monumental Dud--possibly the largest, most comprehensive Dud ever awarded by this paper in the decade we have been awarding Duds--that goes to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's reforms package, it is necessary to illustrate the scope of the Dud by disconnecting the two components.

As to the reforms, it's simple: They are a cold mercenary's knife into the back of Idaho students, parents, teachers and all those who have put their faith in the transcendent potential of public education.

Fewer teachers and more electronics? Ah, yes, let us move away from the tutor-student relationship that has served humanity splendidly from Socrates forward and replace it with a gadget that was invented 20 years ago.

Merit pay for the remaining classroom educators? Great idea, as long as you're one of the teachers willing to be the administration's pet.

Forcing virtual classes on students? Does anyone really think mediocre or at-risk students are going to pay more attention to, or get more out of, an online physics program than they do to Mr. Bly the science guy down in Room 222?

No, citizens, the only thing these reforms are good for is to reform your tax dollars into corporate profits.

The Schemer

"If after four years of his leadership, our school system is broken, why should any parent, student or voter put the slightest faith in any idea proffered by the architect of such failure?" --Idaho Democratic Party statement questioning why Tom Luna would run for re-election by boasting what a good job he had done, then promote his reform plan just weeks later on the grounds of how bad things are.

Even if we swallow Luna's denial that he didn't bring his reform ideas home with him from President George W. Bush's Education Department--in which he worked under people who now are leading the charge to privatize public schools and skim billions of tax dollars from state treasuries--don't we still have to question why a man convinced he'd come up with such a brilliant idea to radically reform education wouldn't have campaigned on that brilliant idea when he was running for re-election? Could the answer be nothing more complicated than Luna knew it would go over like a lead balloon?

Shoving Their Money Around

"It's Time to Put Our Kids First! (Ahead of Union Bosses)" --From on one of Frank VanderSloot's full-page ads promoting the education reforms.

"We Must Prepare Our Children for Their Future, Not Our Past." --From one of the Albertson Foundation's full-page ads promoting the education reforms.

VanderSloot's "Community Page" ads were nastier in tone, blaming everything wrong in education on teacher unions, while the Albertson Foundation took the softer approach of "don't our children deserve a brighter future?"

But as the controversy unfolded, it became increasingly clear that both Vandersloot--already a billionaire--and the AF leaders (in particular, Albertson fortune heir Joseph B. Scott) had the same motive for shilling Lunaship so shrilly: the financial killing they would make when Idaho, hopefully followed by other states, started shelling out the mega bucks for online education.

The Idaho Education Association

"We're offended by the idea we haven't been putting students first all along." --Sherri Wood, former IEA president

The vast majority of Idaho parents knew that they and their kids were being forced into something they neither asked for nor wanted with Luna's education reforms. Yet, if not for the Idaho Education Association, they would have had no platform, no organization or unity from which to launch a counteroffensive. Had it not been for the IEA's stiff resistance, we'd have been left to like it or lump it.


Otter Droppings

Butch vs. Obamacare

If you're part of the nearly 20 percent of Idahoans who are uninsured, and for your well-being were hoping our governor would relent on his raving hatred of President Barack Obama's health-care plan, tough nuts to you, citizen. While Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter did veto the nullification nonsense pushed so hard by the tea partitards in the Legislature, he simultaneously issued an executive order forbidding any state agency or employee to take any part whatsoever in moving "Obamacare" forward in Idaho.

The best thing to be said about the guv in this matter is that, in spite of his theatrics, since putting his cowboy boot down to absolutely no federal Obamacare money, he has signed off on waivers that allowed millions of those dollars in. For that, maybe he deserves some praise. However, I just can't write the words: "For his astounding hypocrisy, Butch Otter is awarded a Spud."

Only Green with Envy?

Before a Congressional hearing, our governor (ever a bitter enemy of environmental decisions, be they wilderness designations or that river that runs by his ranch where he oughta be able to dig up anything he goddamn feels like), announced that the golf course in Coeur d'Alene pulls as many visitors in a day as the whole Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness attracts in a year.

Within hours, he was proven wrong by a factor of several thousand, but I don't think his crappy math is the real story here. Could it be he's jealous that there will never be anything named after him more magnificent than a wet T-shirt contest in Garden City?

Big Talk, Especially Coming from a Career Politician

"It's time to take the extraordinary measures that were born of necessity these past few years into the foundation for a new concept of governance for Idaho. Governance that emboldens and frees individuals and communities from the soul-crushing tyranny of entitlement." --Otter, alerting Idahoans in his 2011 State of the State address that he was preparing to strip everything he could from the state's poorest, sickest, youngest, most-vulnerable and least politically connected Idahoans.

Personal memo to Otter: Hopalong, you ain't no leader. You're just a tacky cardboard cut-out trying to act the part of a leader. Real leaders use their own brains, not Ralph Smeed's.

All Hail Cece, Idaho's Greatest Gov.

Congratulations to the four-term ex-governor and former secretary of the interior (under President Jimmy Carter) Cecil Andrus, whose biography by Chris Carlson was released this year with the title Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor. Gov. Andrus, I knew well before this year that you were the greatest governor, but what I really love about this biography is that it gives me yet another opportunity to remind Idahoans of how far we have slipped. In fact, an even better title would have been Cecil Andrus: About 1 Million Times Better Than What We Have Now.

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