News » Features

Spuds & Duds 2006

The year started off in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy. We lost one pope and got a new one. The country lost New Orleans. More and more U.S. servicemen lost their lives in the Middle East fighting America's war on terrorism. Idaho's National Guard came back home. Boise Weekly moved to swanky new offices. Yes, it's been a busy year. We take this time every year in our annual Spuds and Duds issue to reflect, not with top 10 lists or warm-fuzzy retrospectives, but with a look back on the things that deserve a spud and things that deserve a dud. Whether it deserves a "woo-hoo" or a "boo-hoo" depends entirely upon your perspective, but our staff, assisted by the wordsmith Mr. Bill Cope, has addressed the issues that rubbed us the right way or wrong way in 2005. And if I may say so, 2006 is shaping up to be a banner year for potential spuds and duds already.
--Bingo Barnes, editor

Spuds & Duds

lifetime achievement

This year's Lifetime Achievement Spud goes to Marilyn Howard, who announced she won't be running again for the office of Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction. We realize she has another year to go, but in the excitement of the coming months, we might overlook her retirement, and we want to make certain she gets the rousing spud she deserves.

She has served two terms as the state's champion for education, the only Democrat in a vipers' nest of Republicans who sometimes act as hostile to public education as they are to everything else they don't understand. At one point early in her tenure, that most ungracious of recent governors (Kempthorne, should there be any doubt) created an education administrative position on his staff for no apparent reason other than to embarrass and demean Howard. How she managed to come through eight years of swimming with these sharks with her humble dignity intact, we can't even guess. But we're damn glad she was there. Thank you, Ms. Howard, from our pre-schoolers right on up through our Ph.D.s.

Idaho's 116th

A huge Welcome Home Spud to Idaho's scrappin' 116th. We may not all agree with why you went there or what your being there has accomplished, ladies and gentlemen of the National Guard. But we're delighted you're back.

Lifetime achievement

This year's Lifetime Achievement Dud goes to part-time senator/full-time special interest shill Larry Craig, who has collected so many duds over the years, we figure he must be renting a wall in a FEMA operations center somewhere on which to hang them all.

This year, even after an exhausting 25 years feeding at the public trough, Craig managed to hit a three-dudder. First, he introduced legislation granting immunity to gun manufacturers for any liability on damage, death and destruction their products might bring about--a pre-emptive strike on those whiny survivors who lose a loved one to the pandemic of gun violence. Then, on the principle that no information is the best information when it comes to protecting the interests of his powerful patrons, he de-funded the Fish Passage Center--an agency that keeps track of how many salmon and steelhead return to the Northwest every year.

But the most flamboyant display of Craigish insensitivity was when he offended the entire nation by suggesting it would be best if New Orleans was never rebuilt, seeing as how the town is so rife with corruption and pay-offs. (And if anyone from Idaho knows a thing or two about pay-offs, it has to be Larry Craig.)

With this level of arrogance, we here at BW have come to the opinion that Craig has earned the distinction of being the first inductee into Idaho's Hall of Dud-dom. We will even spring for a life-sized bronze bust of Senator Larry in his prime--should he ever get there.

contractor licensing

Let's say the aluminum siding you put up last summer is already falling off in huge chunks, and by exposing large sections of bare exterior, you have discovered what happened to the family pussy cat that disappeared about the same time those siding guys were on the job, and because of the fumes from the cat, all your clothes and furniture now smell like six months of death, not to mention how November's rain came through the faulty siding and ruined your brand-new Pergo flooring, which had started to curl up within a week after the Pergo guys left, anyway, and because of the uneven floor, you tripped and fell through the new drywall--which turned out to be made of corn starch rather than gypsum--and broke your arm on the just-installed kitchen cabinets, just before they all fell off and crushed your skull on the faux marble countertop, which you paid for thinking it was real marble. So, where do you turn for help?

Until recently, you were just out of luck, loser. But the 2005 Legislature made it mandatory for building contractors to register with the state. That new regulation might not bring your cat back, but at least in the future, you can get a better idea of who you should have hired in the first place.

Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez vs. "The Chicken and Worm"

BW has spent considerable space covering the one-issue meltdown of Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez. While he's been worried about the county's uninvited south-of-the-border guests for some time now, the tightly wound commish seemed to spend the entire summer of 2005 worrying about what he termed "an unarmed Mexican invasion." Besides a smartass 2004 invoice sent to the Mexican consulate for medical and legal expenses incurred by the county because of Mexican aliens, likening the influx of poor job-seeking laborers to the Nazis in Poland and calling the emblem on the Mexican flag "the chicken and worm," Vasquez spearheaded a suit by the county under the federal RICO Act (usually used to prosecute organized crime) against local businesses for employing illegal aliens. Federal District Judge Edward Lodge subsequently tossed the suit on December 14. We just hope Vasquez continues to keep a cool head without resorting to ridiculous grandstanding or inflammatory language.

Legislative self- righteousness

In a year he probably wishes he could forget, Kuna's Jack Noble earned undoubtedly the most conspicuous, glaring, neon-coated, super-duper dud to emerge from the 2005 legislative season. One could argue, we suppose, that every day the Legislature is in session, more damage is done to more innocent Idahoans than Noble could ever hope to accomplish with one measly booze outlet across the street from a school. But then, most of them have the sneaky sense to hide their self-interest under a cloak of self-righteousness.

Celebrities!

You've likely heard the news: Nick and Jessica appear to be no more. Ditto Britney and Kevin, not to mention Renee and Kenny. Brad and Jennifer's split is old news, but Brad and Angelina ... is he really adopting her kids? Then there's Tom and Katie's baby and upcoming nuptials. It's exhausting keeping track of it all, you know?

The country's consciousness has been increasingly preoccupied with the comings and goings of famous folk. We know some singer's weight, or an actor's stance on antidepressants or favorite flavor of ice cream. Some might say our level of celebrity preoccupation has become ridiculous, or that our focus on the lives of the famous reflects a collective interior void and a fierce psychological avoidance of thinking about the things that really matter. Be we say, you go, People Magazine, Entertainment Tonight and Leno! Now, wasn't there a war or something, too?

and

Surpassing Spokane In Population To Become The Northwest's Third-Largest Metropolitan Area

We're somewhat astride the fence on this one ... Recently, little ol' Boise stopped being little ol' Boise anymore, by edging past Spokane, Washington, to become the official third-largest city in the Northwest (Seattle and Portland take the top spots). We've passed the 200K mark, and are still going strong with no plans to slow (thanks, outer Ada County).

Sure, population growth represents more commerce, more economic opportunity and probably even more cultural benefits, too. And we do like to kick Spokane's butt when possible (look at 'em up there, thinking they're so great ...). But then we think of the downside of growth and it's sobering. The roads are already a congestive nightmare, and the winter inversion always gets us down. Having more people necessitates more buildings, more cops, more retail, more ... growth. Will we have the infrastructure or a plan to create the infrastructure to accommodate it? Plus, we're really sick of those hideous, cheap and packed-together new housing developments. Next year, we may root for Spokane.

Animals killing each other as a spectator sport

Cock and dog fights are still in spuddy shape after a bill that would have made organizing those grand sporting events a more serious infraction failed in the Legislature. Elmore County lawmen didn't like the upgrade from misdemeanor to felony. They complained it would put too big a burden on their jail systems over in the borderlands. So, hillbillies, rejoice. If your pleasure is watching dumb beasts shred each other to bite-sized chunks, your Saturday nights are secure. Personally, we think you should stick to hooting for your favorite NASCAR driver and leave the beasts be.

Space Tourism

A year ago last October, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne took the $10 million X Prize and won the distinction of being the first privately built manned spacecraft ever to shake earthly bonds and safely return.

Mogul Richard Branson and his newly-formed Virgin Galactic have formed a partnership with Rutan called the Spaceship Co., and the venture will build five ships based on the SpaceShipOne model, hoping to launch the space tourism industry on ground where only astronauts have previously tread.

It's recently been reported that New Mexico will likely be the launching home to the endeavor. The company has already collected $200K in deposits from some 50 aspiring cosmonauts, and thousands have reserved spots on the as-yet-unrealized commercial space flights.

Through a marriage of technological ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, the common man stepping out into the final frontier no longer seems like science fiction.

Skyrocketing Increases in Property Taxes

You work hard, you save, you protect your good credit, and you buy a house. And once you buy a house, that's it, right? It's yours? Not exactly. Even a place you've paid off is never paid off, if you factor in taxes. They never go away, and if you fail to pay them, you'll still lose that paid-for roof.

Property taxes are becoming a real pain in the attic for many Boise homeowners. As the growth rate continues to increase, so do the price for a home and the value for existing properties (at a rate outpacing the national average). And when property values increase, property taxes take a sharp rise, too.

While torn lawmakers and concerned citizen groups duke out tax breaks for some and tax caps for others, Ada County residents--and beyond--are feeling the pinch.

Property owners in Sun Valley know what we're talking about, and our neighbors in Valley County are already feeling the squeeze, too. That new Tamarack Resort represents more than just a great new ski area.

COLLECTIVE ARROGANCE

Know those closed caucuses the Republicans are always holding down at the Legislature? You know, the ones reporters and Democrats and anyone with an ounce of integrity thinks are a slap in the face to open government?

Well, citizen, what you may not know is, not only were the closed meetings against the Senate's own rules, they are illegal under Idaho code. So what did our Senate Republicans do to make things right? Easy greasy. They simply changed the Senate rules to allow for their secret little confabs. And as to such behavior by public officials being illegal in Idaho, their explanation was that Senate rules override state law. Now don't you wish you could get away with things like that? Immunity. What a wonderful gift for those who have it. Especially when it's self-declared.

University tuition

As if the costs for a higher education haven't already climbed so high that America's entire middle class may have to move to India to find decent jobs, the Board of Education proposed that our three state universities be allowed to charge tuition to Idaho natives. The Legislature--never a great fan of an erudite constituency, anyway--hitched up their bibs and agreed. "Sounds like a dandy plan t' me, duh yuk! Last thin' we need hyar in I-dee-how is more o' them ed-jee-cated smarty pants."

and

New Tax Districts

Borg Assimilator, SunCor, those Arizona development giants so intent in turning the road to Horseshoe Bend into our next traffic nightmare, had the unmitigated gall to approach the state legislature with a proposal to create new taxation districts to pay for neighborhood facilities such as bridges and swimming pools in their proposed Avimor mega-division. In other words, they wanted their cake and for taxpayers to eat it.

In a fit of good sense, however, the Legislature stopped Suncor's proposal in its tracks. "Go back to Arizona, SunCor. Finish screwing up your own state before you come up and mess with ours." (We said that. You'd never hear something like that out of a legislator. Not as long as there was the possibility of a campaign contribution on the horizon.)

and

Lobbyist Regs

We all know about, and all object to, the practice of lawmakers leaving the Legislature and going directly into the lobbying biz, where they continue to move and shake state policy even if they were ignominiously booted out by their constituents. What we may not know about, but would certainly object to if we did, are those state agency employees who leave their agency and go directly to work for whichever industries that agency oversees and/or regulates. If you see no problem with that, imagine an FBI agent leaving the Bureau to take a job with the Mob ... only a state meat inspector who goes to work for the meat packing industry might get a lot more people killed. Get the picture?

Lucky for us, Senator Gary Schroeder (R-Moscow) introduced an ethics bill that would put an end to this mutual back-scratch arrangement for both ex-legislators and ex-state employees. For that, he gets a spud and a half.

Unfortunately the Legislature didn't pass it. The bill got hung up in committee--yeah, right--and died like a dove on a barbwire fence.

Cutting inspections

Our Health and Welfare department is obliged to inspect every assisted-living and residential facility in the state a minimum of once each year. Good news for the old folks, right? Once each year beats letting the geezers fend for themselves indefinitely.

But wait ... this year, H&W appealed to the lawmakers to make inspections less often. And the lawmakers said yes. Your nana could now be neglected for two years before anyone comes to check up on the joint.

Cleaner fuel

Dudliness to the Legislature for stopping passage of a bill that would have required all gasoline sold in Idaho to contain 10 percent ethanol. What the hell's wrong with these guys? Ethanol burns cleaner, so it would be good for Idaho's air quality. Ethanol comes from corn, so it would have been good for Idaho farmers. And ethanol is homemade, so it would have been good for the health of Idaho's National Guardsmen. Can Idaho's huge oil industry have that much pull?

Meth Heads

It has been a lousy year for pseudoephedrine, the ingredient without which methamphetamine is just another way to burn down your garage. Agencies throughout Idaho and the Northwest have eliminated, or are working to eliminate, pseudoephedrine as an over-the-counter purchase. So whether your ailment is a nasty head cold or a raging crank addiction, you might want to explore alternative remedies.

Electoral Ambition

"Nice try" to House Democrats for attempting to upgrade Idaho's small part in the absurdly anachronistic Electoral College. They reasoned that even though Idaho's delegation is minuscule--four--it should reflect more accurately the exact vote count in presidential elections. To that end, they introduced a bill that would have done away with the "Winner Takes All" practice by divvying up the delegates in proportion to the actual results. Other states do it, so why not Idaho? Undoubtedly, the state would still go predominantly for Bush or a Bush-ish candidate, but fair is fair.

Too fair, apparently, for the Republican majority. They squashed it like a bug.

and

Gay Marriage

From the beginning of time and space, we here at BW have made our collective selves crystal clear on what we think of all the odious, under-handed, politically motivated, mean-spirited, idiotic, sanctimonious, unnecessary, resource-wasting, divisive, abusive and derisive attempts by various dimwits to deprive gays and lesbians of their full share of rights and privileges, so there is no point in hoeing that row again.

Still, with that said, certain state legislators who can't seem to get homosexuality off their minds for very long must not be allowed to go unnoticed for their 2005 attempt to get an amendment banning gay marriage carved into the Idaho constitution. It failed, thanks to a slim majority in the State Affairs Committee. But for their efforts, we award Curt McKenzie (R-Nampa) and Gerry Sweet (R-Meridian) one of the biggest, fattest, juiciest duds from our well-stocked dud pantry.

And don't worry, dimwits. We'll still have plenty left over for next year when, no doubt, you two just can't stop thinking about homosexuality again.

Oh yes, and an auxiliary spud to those members of the State Affairs Committee who shot it down. Good job, people, but keep your powder dry. We hear the dimwits are regrouping for another attack.

Powerball Winners

Idaho picked up not one, but two, high profile multi-millionaires this year, thanks to Powerball. With a one-buck quick pick from a Big Smoke store, 22-year-old Eric Kyle found himself $18.7 million richer after the February 23 drawing. Kyle was working at the Kopper Kitchen when he beat the 120-million-to-one odds with a lucky number 13 powerball. Then on May 28, Idaho scored itself another big money taxpayer when 33-year-old Brad Duke claimed the fifth largest jackpot in Powerball history. After winning with the same numbers he'd been playing for years, the Gold's Gym manager had to figure out how to stuff a whopping $220.3 million dollars into his wallet (well, technically it was only $85 million, as Duke took the one-time cash payout). As Duke's state of residence, the spud state picked up a check for $10 million, which is more than enough to buy a Coke for each Idahoan and have just enough left over to fund a modest slice of the governor's mansion remodel.

Yin: Courthouse, Schmorthouse

A continuing dud to those heritage-deaf legislators, so ably exemplified by Hal Bunderson (R-Meridian), who yearn to turn the grand old Ada County Courthouse into wrecking ball fodder. You have to wonder what these jokers believe is worth saving, don't you? Aside from their own meager selves, that is.

Yang: Yay, Courthouse!

And congratulations to all those ardent Art Deco aficionados, from Mayor Bieter to Idaho historian-extraordinaire Arthur Hart, who fought to save it. The matter is not entirely settled yet, but between you and us, we think we won one.

Smokin' vets

We all agree. Yes, no doubt about it ... smokers should be forced to go outside to practice their filthy, filthy habit. Preferably, outside in Elmore County.

But our military veterans have earned themselves a break, haven't they? After the 2004 legislation that made all public buildings (except for bowling lanes and bars) smoke free, those residing in veterans's homes were forced to exit the premises if they wanted a cig. Outside. In the weather. Wheelchair-bound or missing a leg or whatever ... smoke 'em if you got 'em ... but not in here, soldier.

That's right. These guys could whip Axis ass, hold the Red Chinese to the 38th parallel and survive the swampy hells of Southeast Asia. Yet when it came to enjoying a smoke in a warm place, they were kicked out--casualties of overly-protective friendly fire. These heroes must have started to wonder if it was all worthwhile.

But in 2005, the Legislature realized the cruelty of its ways and exempted the ailing, aging warriors from the policy. Vets can now burn the Camel in either their own apartments or a designated smoking room. Let us never forget: Freedom isn't free--it's up to about $30 a carton.

Highway to Debtville

Jack Noble aside, biggest dud of the legislative season just has to go to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who--in order to get ski-bums up to the Cascade slopes in a more timely manner--put Idaho into $1.6 billion worth of Garvee bond debt mostly so he could carve an express lane through one of southern Idaho's last peaceful places. It's undoubtedly too late to stop it now--particularly with a Legislature that squats when Kempthorne says "Squat!"--but we here at BW firmly believe the new route should be named the "Cecil Andrus/Phil Batt Highway."

We know that it doesn't make much sense. But it'll drive Dirk nuts every time he escorts a visiting hotshot up to a Tamarack photo-op, and that's all the reason we need.

The Eruption of Mt. Kempmore

Initially, the Legislature showed a little backbone by questioning the governor's horrendous credit over-run, also known as his "Connecting Idaho" boondoggle.

But after Kempthorne threw his little hissy fit, threatening to veto everything for ever and ever, their backbones turned to Twizzlers. What an embarrassment, to watch grown-up people cave in to a pouting brat. Maybe what the state needs is a tough nanny.

Mark Seeley, The $18 Guy

A spud to Mark Seeley, the one-issue, $18 candidate who took on Iron Man Vern Bisterfeldt in the least contentious city council race of the year. It's not that we wanted to see Bisterfeldt unseated--really, it's hard to imagine a Boise without Der Vern--but Seeley reaffirmed that very American principle that you don't have to "be somebody" to get involved in our process. Try it again, Mark. Only next time, don't be so shy about raising some money.

Down with the buddy system

Turns out, the federal government isn't as fond of cronyism as the Bush/Cheney record would have us believe. They've threatened to rescind a $1.6 billion loan unless Idaho officials take greater care not to tilt bidding procedures toward Idaho companies. One of the aforementioned companies is Washington Group International. Phil Reberger sits on the WGI board of directors. The same Phil Reberger who was recently chief of staff and bosom boot-lick to Dirk Kempthorne. The same Dirk Kempthorne who insisted you and I and our kids borrow this money in the first place. Oh, what tangled webs we weave ...

Brandi Swindell, the feeding tube lady

In the same vein, we award a second such spud to Brandi Swindell. Yeah, we know. She's a show-boating, vacuous, intrusive, holier-than-thou pest who would have likely wasted the city's time and money endlessly on evangelical posturing--sort of a cross between Sharon Ullman and Joan of Arc. But by gosh, you gotta respect that Reese Witherspoon go-get-'em attitude of hers. "Gee, kids, let's turn America into a theocracy." And if it was God's will that she lose (badly) to the point she would think twice about ever trying it again, so be it.

Popkey pitches a tent

And on a related note, we feel Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has earned a slightly misogynistic dud for bringing Swindell's physical appearance into the political ring. First of all, Dan, you would never accuse Vern Bisterfeldt of running on his good looks, would you? Secondly, however attractive you regard Ms. Swindell to be has absolutely nothing to do with what an abysmally bad choice she would have been for a position on the city council.

And lastly, if you think she's so darn good looking, we figure you're still having fantasies about Paula Jones and Tammy Faye Baker.

Jim risch takes his marble and goes home

For the first time in our institutional memory, Lt. Governor and all-around political pest Jim Risch has earned a spud for excusing himself from the Idaho governor's race on the first lap. Speculation is, Risch knows he can't beat popular cowboy-impersonator Butch Otter in the GOP primary--particularly since he couldn't even carry his own county of Ada in his last election--and as the second stringer, he's hoping he might get promoted to the Governor's job should Otter get caught up in the expanding Abramoff scandal.

Whatever the reason he's taken himself out, we're just happy we won't have Jimmy's smug mug to choke on for the next 11 months.

Bieter's booze ban

Darn your hide and a dud to you, Mayor Dave Bieter. It was our favorite place to get drunk, pee in public, flash our boobs, toss our empties and our cookies, and generally offend the most people in the shortest period of time. Then you come along with your dumb old beer ban on the Boise River float, and now we have to do it at home. We tried chugging our lug while standing up in Mom's rocking chair for three hours with the lawn sprinkler turned on us, but it just ain't the same. When will you politicians ever learn that freedom is just another word for us getting obnoxious anywhere and anytime we effin' feel like it.

and

Napoleon dynamite

Do those state officials and legislators who honored Napoleon Dynamite with a special day deserve a spud for promoting Idaho's embryonic film industry, or a dud for being so oblivious to the irony that it is pompous people precisely like them that the film lampoons? We can't decide. We're still arguing over whether Napoleon's big dance was super cool or just creepy.

Jerome Mapp

A spud to Jerome Mapp for his 12 years of service to Boise and a tentative spud to winner Jim Tibbs. Mr. Tibbs, too, has served our city for a good, long time, but we're withholding final judgment until we're certain what he's up to isn't just to get even for not being chosen chief. Revenge, City Councilman Jim, is a dish best left unserved.

Your Drunk ass

Listen up, obnoxious drunks: Because you don't know how to behave in public, we responsible drinkers first lose the pleasure of a cold beer or a sparkling glass of wine in our favorite city parks. Then because of you, we have to listen to Dee Sarton get all braggy over alcohol-free day at the State Fair. Then finally, because of you, they take away our innocent refreshments on the river. Someday, because of you, it will be illegal to quaff a frosty brew or sip a sangria anywhere the sun is shining, and we're sick of it!

How 'bout this, party animal? You get as drunk as you possibly can, grab your inner tube and go float the Middle Fork of the Payette River from Crouch to Banks. We'll test whatever pieces are left for blood alcohol content, and the winner gets a plaque with his name on it and a keg donated in your honor to your favorite charity.

Statesman heave-ho

Until this summer, one megalithic media monster owned both of Boise's daily papers, USA Today and the Statesman. We're not accusing Gannett of anything in particular here, but we feel it's always better when separate renditions of the news are coming from separate mouths. So let's have a big ol' spud for whoever it is down at Gannett central who decided to sell off the Statesman. Finally, we'll be getting a different perspective, right? C'mon, Knight Ridder, tell us we'll be getting a different perspective.

Mike Simpson

Whether the proposed wilderness bill turns out to be a spud or a 300,000-acre dud, we feel Representative Mike Simpson deserves a spud for the effort. We suspect few, if any, of Idaho's other current political leaders would have involved conservation groups so heavily in the discussion. That makes you the Gandhi of Idaho, Simpson. Or maybe the Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu of Idaho. Pretty good. Pretty good.

Endangered ESA

Idaho's junior senator, Mike Crapo, is pushing Congress to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, this time with more attention paid to the fragile feelings of private property owners. To us, putting the fate of America's wildlife into the hands of this particular Congress is like hiring a delisted grizzly bear as a baby sitter.

The, ahem, inquest

What does "coroner's inquest" mean to you, citizen? How about, "an objective investigation into how a person died, and whether or not that death was unavoidable?"

Well, that's pretty much what it means to us, too. Further, we see no wiggle room in the "coroner's inquest" concept for advocacy, patronage or presenting hand-picked aspects of the incident--especially when contrary aspects are left unrepresented.

Like, what did the messiness of Matthew Jones' bedroom have to do with whether his killing was justified? What do the preferred charities of potential jurors have to do with their ability to distinguish fact from fiction? Why should an up-coming city election influence the scheduling of such a proceeding?

And now, the very figures who so thoroughly corrupted our community trust by the way they conducted themselves in the Jones affair--Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg and county prosecutor Greg Bower--have announced they are considering doing away with such inquests. They "created more problems than it's worth," says Sonnenberg.

Well, duh. Suppose it has anything to do with the way you run the damn things, Erwin?

ACC Secret Meeting

Maybe it's not so dire that the Ada County Commission had a secret and probably illegal session last summer. After all, these three slugs are so dull, we'd likely have drifted off to sleep anyway. Think about it: if it weren't for eccentric little quirks like not paying taxes when they are due, the commission would have no personality at all.

But good gravy, did they have to hold it in the Arid Club? We guess only the little people eat at Shari's.

Idaho Conservation League

Plenty of conservation organizations exist in the western United States. Some we dig, some we roll our eyes at and some that we can only admit to liking when we're at home with the shades drawn. Then there's the Idaho Conservation League. Executive Director Rick Johnson's utterly knowledgeable, professional crew has been on the forefront of just about every major environmental victory in Idaho in recent years, and this year has been no exception. Most recently, they got the proprietors of a planned gas-fired power plant east of Boise to agree to cut the plant's pollutant emissions by 50 percent. Before that, they were crucial in the process to change Idaho's shamefully lax laws governing cyanide-based gold mining. This summer, the ICL even sued to force Atlanta Gold Corp. to clean up previous mining companies' pollution in the Boise River watershed--and the company agreed. There's plenty more--and for many, the jury's still out on the ICL's part in Mike Simpson's Boulder White Cloud Wilderness plan--but there's no doubt the ICL has earned its spud this year.

Hannah Stauts

Proving that age ain't nothin' but a number, 22-year-old Hannah Stauts will be sworn in as the mayor of Stanley on January 11, 2006. Stauts won the November election when the ballots tallied an eight-vote lead over her opponent, who garnered a whopping 31 votes. The part-time mayoral position makes Stauts the leading lady of the small mountain town for the next four years. With affordable housing and boosting summer tourist activities at the top of Stauts' list, Boise Weekly gives the Idaho native one great big old spud for being committed to serving the spud state at an age when most of her peers are still trying to determine their brain from their bum.

Losing (Horse) Face

Were you left with a huge hole in your sporting soul this year? Did Les Bois Park look lonesome all summer? Did you have pony dough in your pocket burning to be on Win, Place or Show? Well, you can blame track managers. Or the Ada County Commission. Or somebody. We're not sure who's the bigger screw-up here: the management for losing money like they were betting on their own horse races, or the county leaders for leasing it to the wrong people in the first place.

The Brandi Swindell Campaign

We all wondered what kind of campaign Brandi Swindell--or her handlers--would run prior to the November city council election. Now we know. At the candidate forums and in interviews, Swindell was collected enough to not come off as a fringe loony, and her canned answers sounded no better or worse than would any other totally inexperienced 28-year-old running for public office. For a moment, we thought she had a chance (shudder). However, her $4,500 budget, largely coming from the way-fringy Christian Defense Coalition in Fredericksburg, Virginia, combined with her campaign's weak, seemingly half-thought-out attacks against Maryanne Jordan sent a different message--one that made us extra-glad she not only was defeated, but was overwhelmingly, decisively, buckle-end thumped.

Coal in Jerome

Who'd have ever thought that Montana would be leaping to the forefront of progressive energy, while Idaho would remain in the dark ages of coal and hydroelectric? Well, maybe the second part isn't a surprise. But it's true: While Montana is becoming more wind-powered by the day, the biggest "advance" in the Gem state is a proposed coal burning energy power plant to be built outside of Jerome. What does this mean for Idaho's air quality? Well, here's Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's description of the process, from his November 30 speech in Boise. "Here's what you do: you crush it, you ignite it and then you create high-pressure steam which turns a turbine. Then, here's the secret of the deal: You build a stack, really high, high enough that all the mercury and the sulfur and the Co2 that you can put up that stack goes to somebody else's community." Get ready, Boise, because that community is us.

Donations for Hurricane Relief

Perhaps this spud would be more aptly named as "Spuds to the Private Citizens Who Anted Up for Katrina and Rita Victims." With estimates of a total recovery bill ranging from $2 billion by the American Red Cross to as much as $200 billion by other sources, given the government's recent financial track record, that's one big fat bill no credit card company will fork over the cash to cover. But those of you with a little extra in your pockets dug deep to help get some green stuff to the people who need it in the Gulf. Locally, businesses and private citizens quickly organized to scrape together donations. With fundraisers all over town raking in the bucks, Boise Weekly bequeaths a spud to each and every giver. Extra special spuds go to Mai Thai for donating a total of $32,000 over the last three months and to Larissa Lamson, a private citizen who put together Dine Out for the Red Cross, which raised nearly $7,500 in eight nights of fun and food downtown. Want to feel good about your fellow countrymen? Google relief efforts for the two hurricanes and peruse the endless list of hits that describe fund-raising efforts throughout the nation.

Richard Karlgaard

For the first couple hundred years of American history, we had a nice little unspoken caste system. Country people lived in the country. City people lived in the city. Both sides looked down on each other, but each served their part. Country people made the food, and city people kept the economy running by buying useless crap, building unnecessary buildings and paying for hours upon hours of totally ineffective therapy sessions.

Then, along came people like Richard Karlgaard. Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, has made it his personal mission in recent years to make America's nice-ish, little-ish cities--Boise included--better known to the teeming masses of urban malcontents looking for a new place to contaminate with their neuroses. He even wrote a whole chapter about us in his latest book, Life 2.0: How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives By Finding The Where Of Their Happiness. Then he called Boise one of America's premiere "Cheap Places to Live Richly." And, don't forget, we're also one of the finest "Porch Swing Communities," which Karlgaard says are "suffused by parades, county fairs and summer evenings playing kick-the-can."

So, what have these sorts of accolades done for us lately? Living richly in Boise today equals a 3,000-square-foot plasterboard dollhouse on an old alfalfa field. Richly equals four-car families pumping pound upon pound of Dodge-farts into our ever-graying skies. Richly equals gridlock. Richly equals property taxes and a mushroom-cloud-sized housing bubble. Oh, to be poor again.

Tim White

Earlier this year, University of Idaho microbiology prof Dr. Scott Minnich testified at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania in favor of teaching intelligent design. "Ugh," we thought, "another week, another embarrassing headline from deep within Idaho's fruitcake bin." Then, in response, university president Tim White came to the rescue. He released a short, direct and effective letter to students, faculty and staff, saying of evolution, "This is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences. As an academic scientific community and a research intensive land-grant institution, we affirm scientific principles that are testable and anchored in evidence ... at the University of Idaho, teaching of views that differ from evolution may occur in faculty-approved curricula in religion, sociology, philosophy, political science or similar courses. However, teaching of such views is inappropriate in our life, earth and physical science courses or curricula."

Some righties jumped on White for allegedly cutting into his staff's free speech rights. We say his detractors have been drinking too much watered-down communion wine. White didn't prohibit free speech; he just reaffirmed the idea of "academic departments." Using actual science in the college of sciences, now that's an intelligent design.

The ISP

We're happy to hear the Idaho State Police has nothing more pressing on their agenda than to hassle the most user-friendly movie theater in the Treasure Valley about selling overly priced snob beer and plastic cups of vino fino. But really, you find me a teenager who will sit through an eight-buck French cine verite feature with English subtitles, just to cop a buzz off a four-buck hefeweizen. Jeez, maybe the kid has earned a drink.

The Idaho Press-Tribune

The Idaho Press-Tribune is the quintessential small-town paper in a valley that is getting less small-town by the day. And to be sure, this Canyon County chronicle has a perpetual soft spot for quaintness--we're thinking specifically of the letter lady Ida Chatter. But on the other hand, we can't help but respect how relentlessly native the Trib is. Their movie reviews are written locally. Their video game reviews (no kidding!) are written locally. Heck, they even put out glossy special issues dedicated entirely to civic pride (remember Proud 2B2C? If not, maybe your head is stuck up your 1-A). But what we really like is that Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook's gang (oh, wait, we're not supposed to use the g-word when talking about 2C) will almost always give a local news story--be it a cyclist robbing a Caldwell bank or the latest jaw-dropping diatribe from Robert Vasquez--precedence over anything happening on the national scene. Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman is hanging itself daily with the AP wire.

The Governor's Castle

You may think it's old hat to complain about J.R. Simplot's donation of his hilltop mansion to the state of Idaho. And at first, we're tempted to agree. Then we think forward a few years (cue flash forward) to the first time we're showing a friend, who has never been to Boise, around town. Inevitably, we'll wander under the shadow of the new governor's mansion. Inevitably, the visitor will ask, "What kind of vain, wasteful, small-packaged person could feel the need to live in that gigantic eyesore?" And inevitably, we'll look at our shoes and mumble embarrassedly, "I know, let's go get pizza and beer. Plenty of beer, until we forget." We can't wait.

Mancow Ousting Big J on The X

From the omniscient chair of a high power media mogul, the numbers seem to indicate that no one can compete with Bob and Tom in the morning. And from that omnipotent position on high, a decision was made to scrap the local and loved Big J and trade him in for the über-hyped Mancow's Morning Madhouse (alliteration, no doubt, intentional). Voted Boise's Best radio DJ in Boise Weekly's 2005 Best of Boise by our readers, the proof is in the pudding. Sure, you can still catch Big J doing his thing with new rock and '90s midday (and we do still love him just the same), but in a big brat fit, Boise Weekly sends out a big dud to the absence of Big J's voice in the morning, which once so lovingly called us from our dreamworld and shoved us straight into the shower before a long day of wordsmithing.

Linen District

It's about time somebody was bothered by the eroding west end of downtown and decided to do something about it. Developer David Hale has such grand plans for the six-block area around 15th and Grove streets that the city was shocked and awed enough to allow Hale to draft his own planning and zoning regulations for the area. And unlike other promised Boise developments (the words "tower" and "hole" come to mind here), Hale wasted no time in getting things off the ground. The recently opened Visual Arts Collective and Donnie Mac's Trailer Park Cuisine are both Linen District projects and both pony up solid evidence that Hale means business. With the ultimate vision of the district as a space where the creative upper crust can live, work, shop and play, Boise's newest urban village gets two thumbs up and a monster tater from Boise Weekly.