Best of Boise Public Eye (Staff Picks)

From political circuses to taxi tangles

Best Political Circus

The 2014 Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate

"A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker and a regular guy walk into a bar..." That sounds like the setup to a joke, but it's true--except the bar part. Actually, the archetypes walked into the 2014 Idaho GOP gubernatorial debate, and it's hard to say if anyone was in on the joke. In May 2014, rancher Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, everyman Meridian Sen. Russ Fulcher, and perennial office seekers Harley "I Wish My Last Name Was Davidson" Brown and irascible old Walter Bayes squared off on Idaho Public Television for their one and only debate before the primary election. It made for must-see TV, with Brown--clad in biker leathers--delivering gems like the "cowboy, curmudgeon ..." line, as well as "I've got a Master's degree in raisin' hell" and "I'm about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl." With his enormous white beard, Bayes could have passed for Santa Claus if ol' St. Nick was an angry hermit, thundering about everything from the evils of abortion and wolves, to lands policy, homeschooling and radioactive contamination. Otter looked amused, but Fulcher didn't think any of it was funny, later calling the debate "a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho." Otter handily won the primary vote, while Brown's performance reportedly scored him a contract with an L.A.-based company hoping to produce a reality show in which he runs for president of the United States. No joke.

Best Political Cage Match

GOP leadership scuffle

Raul Labrador was supposed to fix everything. The Republican U.S. congressman was in Moscow for the June 2014 Idaho GOP state convention, trying to lead his party out of a longtime power struggle between moderates and a powerful Tea Party faction. That didn't happen. Not by a long shot. Right-wingers tried to expel a raft of less right-wing delegates (mostly from the Treasure Valley), and the whole thing broke down without electing officers or adopting a platform. Labrador left Moscow licking his wounds--"At least I tried to fix the problem," he said. Worse still, then-Chairman Barry Peterson retreated to the party's offices in Boise and had the locks changed. A lawsuit in July settled that Peterson was out, and, in August, gloriously bald East Idaho political consultant Steve Yates was elected as Grand Old Elephant.

Best Full-Metal Backpack

SB 1254 'Guns on Campus' Bill

In March, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law SB 1254, which allowed retired police officers and holders of advanced conceal-carry weapons permits to carry their weapons on Idaho's public college and university campuses. As the bill moved first through the Senate, then the House, it was met with nearly universal opposition by school administrators, faculty and students, who worried that the increased presence of guns on campuses could detract from learning environments. Meanwhile, campus security at Boise State University and the University of Idaho has been enhanced to meet what are seen as new challenges to student safety. Under the new bill, one guy has already shot himself in the foot--literally: In September, a University of Idaho instructor's concealed firearm discharged, wounding him. In. The. Foot. See, safer already.

Best 'Who Elects These People?'

Mark Patterson resignation

Former Boise Republican Rep. Mark Patterson had a thing about the truth. He apparently didn't like it. Not only did his campaign fudge facts about his education and sports accomplishments, but he neglected to mention, on his concealed-weapons application, that he'd been arrested and charged with raping a woman in Florida in the 1970s. When the story broke in November 2013 that Patterson's permit was being yanked by the Ada County Sheriff's Office, the lawmaker lashed out at the media (former Statesman reporter Dan Popkey, in particular) and Sheriff Gary Raney. After a few lengthy press releases, filled with threats of lawsuits, his own party decided to push him out the door. Patterson resigned in December, proving that you can betray your colleagues during the primaries, you can compare Obamacare to the Holocaust and you can get arrested for DUI on Father's Day and still keep your seat in the Idaho Legislature. Lie on your pocket-gun application, though, and it's all over.

Best Strange Bedfellows

Dan Popkey quits Idaho Statesman, becomes Raul Labrador's press secretary

For almost 30 years, the name Dan Popkey was synonymous with Idaho political reporting. The veteran Statesman reporter covered dozens of legislative sessions, broke more than his share of scandals (earning a Pulitzer nomination for his dogged pursuit of former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's sexual habits) and became as much a part of the Statehouse as its faux marble columns. So it was with a collective "WTF?" that Idaho politicos and media types greeted the news in July that Popkey would be joining Idaho U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador's staff as the maverick Republican's press secretary. Popkey said he "wept" over the decision to move from gadfly to spin doctor, but he may have wiped away the tears with some of his reported $84,000 salary.

Best Aquatic Quagmire

Outbreak of norovirus at Eagle Island State Park

The water at Eagle Island State Park is 12 feet deep and with a temperature hovering around 80 degrees, maybe it shouldn't have come as a shock when more than 100 people got sick after swimming in it earlier this summer. It wasn't from elevated levels of E. coli; the water became contaminated with norovirus after an infected person visited the park and spread the stomach bug. Never having had to deal with norovirus before, folks at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation were left scratching their heads. They promised to drain the lake but could only drop the water level three feet. The park's 600 parking spots sat empty for weeks while IDPR hoped the sun would kill the virus. It did and since the park reopened, no further illnesses have been reported.

Best Faith-Based End-Run

'Religious Liberty' Bills

Supporters called them a "shield" while opponents said they were being used as a "sword." Either way, it was a full-on fight over a pair of so-called "Religious Liberty" bills introduced by Boise Rep. Lynn Luker in the 2014 legislative session. Based on similar laws introduced in statehouses around the country--and written from the Focus on the Family playbook--Luker's bills would have legally protected businesses and professionals (including doctors, attorneys, firefighters and police) that decline services to customers based on their religious beliefs. Seen as code for "you can legally discriminate against anyone you don't agree with," the opposition was swift and broad-based, from members of the LGBT community to faith leaders and civil libertarians. After more than a week of fiery public testimony, one of the bills was quietly killed while the other slipped into committee, where it rode out the session. There could be a resurrection. Lord knows, the Idaho Legislature works in mysterious ways.

Best Street Fight

The smart meter scandal

Some people can't seem to get along. The city of Boise and Ada County Highway District have been butting heads for years--on bike lanes, roundabouts, traffic direction or, recently, so-called smart meters--and the two entities are never short of something to fight about. The saga of the smart meters goes back to 2012, when the city of Boise announced it would be installing technology that detects when a vehicle leaves a parking space and resets the meter. Motorists could pay for parking online and also receive an alert on their smartphones when a space opened up. It sounded like a win-win, but trouble reared its head when the city started embedding the sensors necessary for the meters to work into streets this year. ACHD, which owns the streets, cried foul--the city claimed it didn't need permission for the installation. ACHD fired off a cease-and-desist demand, and an opinion from the attorney general backed up its authority to do so. In late August, ACHD commissioners voted to halt the project, leaving the city to come up with a contingency plan: installing the sensors on the meters. We'll call that one a draw.

Best Taxi Tangle

Boise's unregulated cab companies

Boise is most certainly the Wild West of taxi cabs, with some 85 cab companies and 165 vehicles on the road (the number changes monthly), but the city hasn't done a lot to regulate the number of taxis that come and go out of business. City officials insist on respecting the free market and if that means a line of 25 cabs at the airport, duking it out for one or two fares a day, so be it. In July, however, the city proposed a new $150 annual fee for taxi cab companies. It's a carrot on a stick: Cab companies can have the fee waived if they go the whole year with no violations. Maybe the Wild West just got a little tamer.

Best Denial of Service

Madelynn Taylor denied request to be buried with wife at Idaho State Veterans Cemetery

Madelynn Taylor served her country, but her country--at least her home state--doesn't seem interested in serving her. The 74-year-old Navy veteran left the military under a cloud, after she was outed for being gay and told to name names or face two possibilities: a court martial or administrative discharge. She refused to out others and took the discharge, leading to a yearslong fight for her benefits. After leaving the military, she married Jean Mixner and the two raised cattle in Idaho. Mixner died in 2012, and Taylor requested they be buried together at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. Because of Idaho's ban on same-sex marriages, their union wasn't recognized--her request was denied. Taylor sued the Idaho Division of Veterans Affairs in July, and as of press time, is still waiting for a result.

Best Reason to Crane Your Neck

Eighth and Main Tower

From Boise Hole to "Hole-y shit, that's a big building," the Eighth and Main tower puts the "sky"scraper in Boise's skyline. At 323-feet-tall, and boasting 20 floors, Eighth and Main officially became the tallest building in Idaho when it opened February 2014. No less than '90s rockers the Goo Goo Dolls feted the ribbon cutting at a massive block party that drew thousands of revelers into the bitter cold. Home to the Idaho headquarters of Zions Bank and law firm Holland and Hart, the tower also hosts Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria, lunch spot On the Fly and upscale chain Ruth's Chris Steak House. Though its spire generated some controversy--with a few Boiseans complaining that it looked suspiciously "Mormon Temple-ish"--many agree that it's a glass-and-steel beacon of urban prosperity.

Best Reason to Build an Ice Cream Shop

The Vista neighborhood meeting

In June, the city of Boise embarked on a quiet, yet revolutionary project to mine the community for data, neighborhood by neighborhood. The survey, Energize our Neighborhoods, kicked off at the Whitney Community Center on the Boise Bench and focused on Vista Avenue. Residents sat down with representatives from various city departments to talk about jobs, parks, crime and sustainability. The goal was to build a grassroots vision of what's happening in Boise neighborhoods and how to make improvements. Among the takeaways from that first meeting: Vista Avenue really needs is an ice cream shop. We'll take two scoops of civic engagement any day.

Best Green Thinking

CSHQA recycles computer heat

A lot of heat comes off a desktop computer. That has always bothered Russ Pratt, a mechanical engineer at the architectural firm CSHQA, and he waited 20 years for the opportunity to do something with all that energy. Tinkering around in his garage, he finally figured it out: he invented a mechanism that pulls heat from the computer and re-uses it to keep the CSHQA offices nice and warm in the wintertime and discards the extra heat in the summer. It makes up for almost half the office's heating, and cuts down on air conditioner use. Better get that patented fast, Pratt.

Best Bondage

Boise bond push tries and fails

When Boise Mayor Dave Bieter sprung his 2013 State of the City address, the centerpiece was a package of bonds intended to raise more than $30 million for a pack of projects, including fire department upgrades, improvements and construction in city parks, and preserving a chunk of the Boise Foothills. The cost to an average homeowner would have been about $12 per year for 20 years, and bond supporters hit the streets and airwaves in a full-court press to win approval. Despite the heavy promotion--including a slick video that played as an ad on YouTube for more than a week leading up to the election--both bonds failed to reach the two-thirds majority requirement. Voter turnout was pegged at 23 percent, with most of the "yes" votes coming from north and northeast Boise. Disappointed but undaunted, bond boosters vowed they'd return with another proposal.

Best Why-Do-You Even-Ask-Questions-Like-This?

Creative BOB voters

The Best of Boise poll contains a handful of questions that seem to have but one answer--either because the person/place/thing truly is the best or the human/location/item is the only one in town, or he/she/it is a combination of both. Boise Weekly readers aren't shy about letting us know they know there is one obvious answer with responses like "What do you think, dumbass?" "Really?" and the perennial favorite, "Duh." We ask because even though we all have a pretty good idea who/what the frontrunner will be when the polls close, we think it's important to remind ourselves that certain beings/businesses are still doing their thing--and doing it well. On a side note, one particular reader made it clear (typo notwithstanding) he/she has bigger things than a poll to worry about, angrily answering all the questions in the Bars and Nightlife category with: "I ain't go time for this shit!"

Best Courtroom Drama

Gay marriage ruling / Add the Words sentencing

The words added up to sentences when more than 190 arrests took place in February 2014 during demonstrations by Add the Words advocates who want to see the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" added to the Idaho Human Rights Act. Adding the words would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination by landlords, business owners and employers. In July, each of those arrested in the Statehouse were charged with trespassing and sentenced to community service. Despite this being the ninth year of protests, the Idaho legislative session came and went without so much as a public hearing to add the words. Maybe next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. In another courtroom drama, Idaho inched closer to joining progressive states in legalizing same-sex marriage--after four lesbian couples sued the state for the right to marry and won--but Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter quickly asked for a temporary stay and appealed the ruling. Otter is prepared to spend $1 million to defend the Idaho gay-marriage ban, which, after a hearing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in September, might go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Best Concrete Campsite

Homeless ticketed for 'camping after day shelter closes

It couldn't have happened at a worse time. With July heat hovering at or near triple digits, homeless shelter Corpus Christi House closed for renovations. With cramped quarters at Interfaith Sanctuary, the River of Life Men's Shelter and City Light Home for Women and Children, dozens of homeless people were forced to find shelter under the overpass near Rhodes Park, a half a block from Corpus Christi House. As the numbers of homeless on the sidewalks swelled, Boise police started writing tickets for "camping." The ordinance, which proscribes "use of public property as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling, lodging, or residence, or as a living accommodation at any time between sunset and sunrise, or as a sojourn" drew a lawsuit from attorney Howard Belodoff and Idaho Legal Aid in 2009. With tensions rising as high as temperatures under the bridge this summer, Belodoff, alongside ACLU of Idaho, hit the street to inform the homeless of their rights. For their part, Boise police said they were unhappy about having to write the citations, and ACLU of Idaho Interim Executive Director Leo Morales said the problem needs to be solved at City Hall. "It's regrettable that our city has a 10-year action plan to deal with homelessness and yet, they haven't dealt with it," Morales said.

Best Reasons to Go Back to Journalism School

Channel 2's politically-driven promos / Channel 6 uses student's video for story

Boise Weekly played media watchdog not once but twice this spring. In March, BW reported on a pair of 30-second news promos airing on KBOI Channel 2 that crossed journalistic lines by openly advocating for small government and deriding "outsiders" for trying to "impose their will" to fix Idaho health care. After our report, KBOI-TV Vice President and General Manager Don Pratt sent an internal memo instructing staffers not be "distracted by this [BW's story]," but informing them the promos would be rewritten because "the tone and phrasing of our new campaign needed adjustment." Then in May, another local TV station ran afoul of news ethics, when it lifted student footage of a Boise State University campus altercation and aired it without attribution. KIVI Channel 6 ran with the story about a tussle between anti-gay fundamentalist preacher "Brother"Jed Smock and a Boise State student, using video taken by 31-year-old student Farzan Faramarzi--a journalist, human rights' activist and incoming BW intern--without his approval and without crediting him. Though legal, Boise State Communications professor and Arbiter student newspaper adviser Seth Ashley called it "lazy and unethical journalism."

Best Groverhaul

City Center Plaza project breaks ground

The Grove, with its shady brick avenue and burbling fountain, is the heart of downtown Boise. From Alive After Five to the city Christmas Tree Lighting, odds are if you live in Boise you'll schlep through the Grove at some point in the year. Beloved as it is, it's changing in a big way. Marshalling the forces of Boise's most powerful movers and shakers, ground broke this summer on the $45 million, 370,000-square-foot City Center Plaza project, which comes complete with an $11.9 million, 55,000-square foot underground bus station. Whoa. The City Center building will house offices for Clearwater Analytics, shops and restaurants, as well as expanded convention space. The project hasn't been without snags: First, crews digging in the Grove struck gasoline left over from former service stations and, in late summer, news broke that part of the financing deal violated rules in the Idaho Constitution about how much debt public entities can incur without a vote of the people. It's unclear how that will shake out, but, in the meantime, the Grove of yore is no more.