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Spuds and Duds

The highs and lows of 2009


Every year 'twixt Halloween and Thanksgiving, Boise Weekly editors and writers gather in the pow-wow room to determine which events and individuals will be designated either Spud or Dud for what has taken place during the previous 12 months. It is a solemn occasion, as we understand that the Spuds and especially the Duds might follow the awardees through life like a swath of toilet paper stuck to one's dress shoe.

But we are convinced it must be done, this annual compiling of the best and worst, for what are the Spuds and Duds if not old news? And what is old news if not history? And what is history if not something either to repeat or avoid repeating—depending, of course, on whether we're looking at reliving a Spud or a Dud? So if you will, think of this issue as a road map to the future of our community and state.

There are so, so many incidents we must leave out owing to the limits imposed by space, and many of you will be dismayed by our choices. How, for instance, can we have ignored former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne's $235,000 bathroom remodel (it likely would have earned him a Dud, should you wonder) or Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman's decision not to "interact with the media directly" (also on the fast track for a Dud)?

Should we have rejected other items so that we might have had room to Dud University of Oregon Duck LeGarrette Blount for sucker-punching Boise State Bronco Byron Hout? Shouldn't we have Spudded the fellow in Kuna who persuaded his school to drop the donkeys from the donkey basketball games? Where on the Spud-Dud scale would have been the much talked about tea-baggers, had we bothered to bother with them? And what about the governor—a believer in "Buy Idaho," we assume—getting caught with an out-of-state coffee mustache?

Speaking of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, should we not have passed Dud judgment on his tantrum of vetoes late in the legislative session, or did the legislators deserve that Dud for their refusal to help him get some much-needed road work done? How would we have awarded Rep. Rich Jarvis' proposal to raise the age children can drop out of school to 18, or Sen. Gary Schroeder's idea to sell excess wolves to other states, or the Nampa Classical Academy's refusal to make its records public, or the Boise Police Department's tactic of ticketing homeless people for illicit sleeping? And who would have gotten what in the great and ongoing streetcar debate?

You'll never know, because in the end, our choices came down--as it so often happens in the year-in-review biz—to what gets written before the word limit has been reached. Following are those items that came in before the gate closed.

Legislators and Congressmen


Tom Trail, Dude!

In October, Moscow Republican lawmaker Tom Trail announced his intentions to bring a medical marijuana bill to the state Legislature in the coming session. Odds setters in Vegas put the chances of such a bill passing in the Idaho Leg. at something less than 1 in infinity, but we admire Mr. Trail's chutzpah in this matter of medical marijuana. We wish him success, and some of our reasons actually have to do with the medical part.


Day-Care Reform

Idaho now requires criminal background checks on day-care providers. Finally.


Fierce Creatures Liability Act

Athol Republican Phil Hart tried to make it a felony to introduce dangerous animals to Idaho, a not-so-subtle swipe at wild wolf supporters. But the bill did not specify wolves, so if you're ever in Athol and trip over Rep. Hart's pot-bellied pig, feel free to bring charges. We're sure he will understand.


The Nexus of Guns, Cars and Co-workers

It was a banner day for crazed, disgruntled employees with visions of revenge and mayhem in their heads when our legislators made it impossible for employers to bar guns from being brought to the company parking lot and left in the car.


The Endless Session

This year's legislative session was one of the longest in state history, lasting 117 painful days. As fun as it is to have people like Lenore Barrett and Steve Thayn hang around Boise for months on end, let's hope the 2009 marathon was an anomaly and not a sign of legislatures to come.


Idaho vs. Human Rights

In another example of why state legislatures can't be trusted with the duty to protect all citizens, the State Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, wouldn't even print the bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate against gays in employment, education and housing.


Crapo: Savior of Canyon Lands

Not just for ourselves, but for generations of future Americans, we Spud up Sen. Mike Crapo for the magnificent work he's done to accomplish Owyhee Canyonlands preservation. (And Mike, don't listen to what Lenore Barrett said about the deal. She's cuckoo.)


Patti Anne Lodge's Conscience

Huston Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge aborted the bill Rep. Tom Loertscher, a Republican from Iona, introduced that would have eliminated any risk to pharmacists who refuse (on the grounds of conscience and/or church dictate) to sell the "morning-after" birth control pill, RU-486, or any legal drug. "Pesky wimin!" we imagine Loertscher thinking. "Why won't they keep their noses out o' this reproductive rights bidness!?"


Risch and Crapo: Mitch McConnell's House Boys

In a spectacular display of heinie-sucking partisan obedience, Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo bowed to party leaders' dictates and voted against the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the nation's Supreme Court. When Hispanics are the majority in Idaho, they'll have to remember this vote when deciding who to name schools and bridges after.


Crapo: Savior of Salmon?

At long last, a possible breach in the traditional intransigence Idaho leaders have shown on the subject of breaching. In May, Sen. Crapo announced the option of taking down Lower Snake River dams must be included in any negotiations concerning how best to restore the salmon runs. It may look like an insignificant crack, but it's a start.

Special Walt Minnick Section


Obama's Stimulus Package

Minnick voted against it.


Friend of Kuna

Minnick stood up for Kuna, asking the Bureau of Land Management to help Idaho Power find a route for their proposed 500,000-watt lines that didn't violate that town's city limits.


Nancy Pelosi non-piler-on-er

Rather than lambasting the House Speaker Pelosi when she claimed the CIA had lied to her, as did Mike Simpson and every other piss-and-moan Republican in Congress, Minnick chose to wait until the facts were known. And as we know now, those facts vindicated Pelosi.


Climate change do-nothing-er

Minnick voted against the "cap and trade" bill approved in the House, explaining how a recession is an inopportune time to try to save the planet.


House Health-Care Reform Bill

Minnick voted against it.

Idaho Personalities


Dan Popkey's Movie Career

When Idahoans flocked to see the documentary Outrage, a film that explores the hypocrisy of gay Republican officials who build their careers, in part, by making life miserable for gays, we were pleasantly surprised to find one of our favorite local reporters playing a prominent part in the movie. Dan Popkey of The Other Paper In Town was instrumental in the outing of a certain, 6-foot, 4-inch, Idaho senator, and for his efforts, Popkey was interviewed for the film. Looking good, Dan. And your makeup was fabulous.


Larry Craig: Working Man

Over the years, Craig has provided us with such a rich cornucopia of remarkable material that we could not let 2009 pass without checking in on what he's up to. We're pleased to see he's opened a consulting firm and that this enterprise has been contracted by commissioners from Minidoka and Cassia counties to help snag a medium-security federal prison for the East Idaho town of Malta. True, it's a lobbying gig, and ex-Sen. Craig is prohibited from lobbying members of Congress for another full year. But there are ways around that rule stuff if you know what you're doing, and nobody should know more about that sort of bathroom... er, 'scuse us ... back room finagling than our Larry Craig.


The Vacuum That Was

Bryan Fischer

This may seem a tad confusing, so let us explain: We are not giving Bryan Fischer a Spud. That is unlikely to ever happen, not as long as Fischer remains a self-righteous bubble of acid reflux nastiness. But since Fischer flew the coop last summer, winging it south to a radio talk show job in Mississippi, there is a noticeable empty spot in the Idaho opinion skyline. That space has always been reserved for whichever member of the local Religious Right could draw the most attention to himself, but with Fischer gone, no one seems willing or able to fill that void. We've lost track of Brandi Swindell (who cohorted with Fischer on the Ten Commandments crusade) and Dennis Mansfield claims he's turned nice, so who does that leave? As of today, no one. Frankly, we've been enjoying the silence. Therefore we award the Spud to that unfilled hole that once went by the name of Bryan Fischer. Get it?


Bryan Fischer

He hadn't been gone more than a few months before he said something about Muslims and the military that should embarrass all Americans. Yes, officially, Fischer is a Mississippi problem. And we find it interesting that he chose to skip to the one state that remains in so many categories more backwards than Idaho. But the reality is that he hasn't been gone from Boise a full year yet. So in a lingering-stink sense, we still have to consider him part of the Gem State zeitgeist, entitling him to a well-earned Dud.


Pistol-Packin', Ron Paul-Backin', Foreclosure Inspector

Challis McAffee's job was to go to homes of people behind on their mortgages and take pictures of the houses. A homeowner in Meridian came out and asked him what he was doing, and with what appears to be little reason, McAffee pulled a gun on him. What gives the story its zing is that Mr. McAffee is the Idaho Republican Party district 16 chairman and a member of the GOP's Central Committee. With that sort of juice, it's not surprising that McAffee would feel entitled to carry a gun. But it comes to us as a scary shock to learn how easy it is to panic a Second Amendment nut.


Blake Hall: Icky Eww

In news of other Republican officials, Blake Hall has been court ordered to stay at least 300 yards away from the Idaho Falls woman he once considered his sweetie. The court maintains that Hall stalked her, littered her lawn with used condoms and "represents an immediate and present danger of doing domestic violence" to her.

Again, this would be a simple and common story of another abusive bum with a history of frightening women, were it not for Mr. Hall's eminence in the state GOP. He was party chair from 1985 to 1989, and until recently, was a delegate to the Republican National Committee. Until recently, he was also a member of the Idaho State Board of Education and was on the payroll of the Bonneville County prosecutor. Oh, and did we already mention how he littered the woman's lawn with used condoms?

Odds and ends


Special Olympics Come to Idaho

A good, good thing.


Retracting the Dalai Lama's Invitation to the Special Olympics in Idaho to Soothe the Chinese Occupiers of Tibet

A bad, bad thing. Shame!


Idaho Potato Commission

Who'd a thought you couldn't say "Idaho" and "potato" in the same breath without getting approval from a bunch of spud farmers? But as the Boise Fry Company, nee Idaho Fry Company found out, in 1966, the IPC registered (with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) the word "Idaho" when used in conjunction with "potato" or any way in which one might prepare that marvelous tuber. Therefore, if you have any plans of opening an Idaho Tater Tot Emporium or an Idaho Hash Browns 'R' Us, think again.


The Searchers

As horrid and tragic as the Robert Manwill story turned out, we were still inspired by the estimated 2,300 people who volunteered to search for the boy. Well done, good hearts.


Butch Otter: Mercury Warrior

For years, various federal agencies have regarded Idaho--in particular, the part of Idaho down Arco way known commonly as the INL--as a place to send gobs of nasty toxic crap. And for years, Idaho governors have been forced to go rebel on their bureaucratic asses, e.g. Cecil Andrus using state troopers to stop shipments of nuclear waste into Idaho.

Now it's up to Butch to stop the transfer of 17,000 tons of mercury to the sands atop the Snake River Aquifer. So far, so good. He's looking pretty firm. He claims neither he nor his staff were told INL was one of several sites being considered as a mercury toilet, and he says that made him mad. Let us just hope he's pissed enough over the perceived slight that he refuses to budge on the more substantive matter.


Ball-Tasering Cop (and Accomplices)

First, a city cop Tasers a handcuffed man's nether regions, and his cop buddies back him up, claiming the perp was resisting arrest, even though the audio record of the incident doesn't support that charge. Then, a supervisor erases part of the taped interview with the arrested man. If this kind of thing continues, we're gonna need a bigger ombudsman.


Invasive Bivalves

Stay away, you stinking zebra mussels! We don't want your kind here! These waters are for freshwater clams only! Go back to Russia and leave our lakes alone!


Good Ol' Idaho Transportation Board

Hard to say at this point if it's Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill all over again, but we can say this much for sure: In 2006, the ITD board of directors promoted Pam Lowe to the department's top spot. In 2009, they fired her. In August, she brought suit, insisting her dismissal was, in part, the result of gender discrimination. Ms. Lowe submitted a statement quoting ITD board member Gary Blick as allegedly saying, "No little girl would be able to run this department," when she was being considered for the job. According to Lowe, Blick went on to question what would happen should she decide to start a family. If true, rumors of working mothers evidently have not reached Blick's corner of the world down in Castleford.

We withhold judgment as to who is telling the truth here. But our instincts tell us that the (at that time) all-male ITD board of directors could certainly have handled this better.


Cheap Shots at University of Idaho "Chief Inspiration Officer"

When we first heard the University of Idaho was paying Magaly Rodriguez $12,500 a month (total of $112,500 annually) to provide "inspiration" to the school, we thought, "How silly. If they need inspiration that badly, maybe they should just drive over to Pullman and pick up some of that medical marijuana."

And everyone here in Bronco Nation seemed to agree: "What are those damn Vandals thinking? Paying such big bucks for a 'chief inspiration officer?' Why, it's an outrage!"

But after learning a bit more about it, we find Ms. Rodriguez's duties were to mediate conflicts between university employees and departments--a job for which $112,500 a year doesn't sound so outrageous, especially when a football coach from the same state can pull in over $800,000 annually--and that the phrase "chief inspiration officer" was never part of her job description and was very likely something she called herself in jest.

It is wonderful, we suppose, that the Statesman's editorial staff sees fit to criticize the management of Idaho's premier university so often and vociferously. But if they are so concerned with the higher-education bang Idahoans get for their taxpayer buck, perhaps they might look into why Boise State's academic rankings are so dismal. (The school didn't even show up on the Washington Monthly rankings of 258 universities. P.S. U of I placed 58th.) Perhaps Boise State could use an inspiration or two, itself.


Bob Kustra: Part-Time State Employee of the Year

Twisted, is what it is, that Butch Otter would raise the insurance premiums on part-time state employees by up to a factor of 10 ($30 a month to a possible $302). Even twisteder is that he would re-classify professors, custodians, office workers and other university employees as part-time. Twistedest of all is that Otter, along with his calf-strangling pard Mike Gwartney, would dream up such a scheme with little public discussion or input. During the State of the University address in August, Bob Kustra--Boise State's president--called Otter's measure for what it is: "an injustice." Spud to President Kustra for standing up to his part-time boss.

Canyon County


Boise still Breathing 2C Fumes

In spite of signs from Nampa officials that they might be amenable to vehicle emissions testing, the County Commission refuses to budge on the testing policy--best described as "Screw Them Ada County Sissies"--that has contributed to our inversions for decades. What we see happening is that the City of Nampa, as it grows and becomes more cosmopolitan, is gradually realizing there is an obligation among human beings not to poison the atmosphere we share, while the commissioners--who must think they represent only the hillbillies who live up in Libertarian Holler--continue to see asthma and lung disease as a lifestyle choice.


2C DWT Fighters

Canyon County, never before known as a hotbed of social consciousness, has taken steps to stop DWT (Driving While Texting). Studies have shown that behind-the-wheel texters are several times more likely to wreck than non-texters, yet Democrats couldn't convince the Republicans to join the 18 states that have already banned texting behind the wheel.

But County Prosecutor John Bujak thinks it could be done without any new laws on the books. We here in Ada County believe it would be a shame if Canyon County beat us to the punch on a life-saving measure. C'mon, let's make it a race.

Candidates for 'Em: Quirky Quirks in the Off-Off Year Election


Melissa Sue Robinson

And here's to you Ms. Robinson, not so much for entering the Nampa mayoral race—anyone could do that—but for entering it as a self-described "male-to-female post-op transgendered person." Not everyone could do that.

Melissa Sue Robinson has lived in Nampa for only a year, but she's certainly made a splash. Having been a man who owned a construction company in Michigan, then a woman running for mayor in one of the most conservative venues this side of Rush Limbaugh's toilet reading rack, caught the attention of major media from Los Angeles to New York. That's the most attention anyone from Nampa has gotten since ... since ... uh, come to think of it, has anyone else from Nampa ever gotten that much attention?


Could-Be Governor: Pete Peterson

Not sure what he stands for or what his idea of a pressing issue is, but we have to hand it to Mr. Peterson. There can't be many politicians who would make their candidacy announcement in a strip joint, but that's what Peterson did. We're not even sure what to call it. Class?... probably not. Style? ... of a sort. Moxie? ... maybe. Funny? ... not if you're a Nazarene.

But however we might describe Pete's bikini bar bravado, we know this: He is a retired state employee who now spends his time doing stand-up comedy in various venues and has decided to run in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Think of him as Mr. Smith Goes To Shecky Green. We can't predict what sort of governor he might make, but if he wins, we'd sorta like to see him bring some of his Torch II friends to the State of the State addresses.


David Webb's Publicity Photo

This Dud we are awarding to David Webb's publicity photo is not to be confused with any opinions we have of David Webb, himself. We are certain that (losing) city council candidate David Webb cannot possibly be as satisfied with his own debonair-ness and suave-icity as his publicity photo would suggest. No way. So to repeat: This Dud goes not to David Webb, who we're sure is a fine fellow, but to his publicity photo, which by all appearances is a weenie.



Tamarack: A Haiku

ghost town with ski-lift

crow nests in upscale condo

snow drifts in hot tub


Bookstore Bites the Dust

Boise's most durable independent bookstore, Vista Book Gallery, closed its doors last summer after 33 years in business. We can't blame owner Diane Leaverton for choosing to retire and spend time with her husband, but it's such a shame. This store carried a healthy selection of reading material penned by Idaho writers, and in that respect alone will be sorely missed. Furthermore, we cannot help but bemoan the reality that independently owned bookstores are going the way of the passenger pigeon, due to the proliferation of chain stores and Internet sources.


The Wolf Hunt

Listen, we understand that it might not be one of Mankind's best ideas to let the reintroduced wolves increase exponentially forever and ever. We get that. We also get that Idaho Fish and Game's function is not to allow nature to take its course, but to kiss the collective ass of the hunters and sportsmen whose user's fees fund them. But still, we think there's some kind of minor evil at work when so many backwards bozos (70,000 tags were expected to be purchased) with high-powered rifles are so eager to kill something they can't eat, and which by many accounts is as intelligent as they are.

DUD of the year

Rex Rammell

In putting this year's review together, we could not help but notice a certain drabness to the collection. No single event sizzled, sparkled or sang out, thereby lending the year either a pizzazz, a panache or a pinata-level moment.

Contemplating further, we realized this dull, uniform surface to Idaho's past year was very likely a symptom of having lost so many sizzling, sparkling, singing pizzazzers. Our beleaguered governor has immersed himself in trying to get some highway upgrades, so he's been no fun at all. And our congressional delegation is starting to look like a Mormon missionary super-cell. All that's missing are the bicycles and helmets.

So where are our current Bill Salis, our Helen Chenoweths ... our Larry Craigs? Is there no highly placed person left who can embarrass the pee-wadding out of us? Is our dear Idaho, without a central figure to give voice to her loonier side, turning into ... (gasp!) ... Utah?!

Be that as it may, we are still bound by duty and tradition (I believe the tradition goes all the way back to 2007) to award a Dud of the Year, and we award it to Rex Rammell. Rammell is running for governor after losing to his old nemesis Jim Risch in the last senatorial race.

However, that's not the reason Rex Rammell has earned the Dud of the Year. By all rights, he should share it with the man who, at a fund-raising event in Twin Falls, asked the candidate about "Obama tags," referring to the licenses hunters must have to kill deer, elk and other game animals. But that particular yahoo managed to remain nameless and besides, he wasn't the one running for Idaho governor.

The only one present who was running for Idaho governor—Rex Rammell—answered the dope's tasteless joke with one of his own: "Obama tags? We'd buy some of those."

Yes, we know--about as funny as a squished kitten. But having a state office candidate make an implicit threat to the life of the president of the United States cannot be overlooked, and we hope the Secret Service was paying more attention than it was during that state dinner a few weeks back.

When Rammell was harshly criticized by other present and past state leaders, he fought back like the feisty farce of a man he is, insisting that Mike Crapo should "apologize for giving away 2 million acres to the environmentalists," (referring to the Omnibus Public Lands Act) and "Phil Batt should go to jail for allowing wolves to enter Idaho in the first place."

Therefore, in lieu of having no serious competition, Rex Rammell has earned 2009's top Dud, and we expect little more from him in the future.