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Top 12 of 2012: A Look Back at the Top Stories of the Last Year and Where They Might Lead

From politics to entertainment, 2012 was a big year


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Education Reform

Senate Bills 1108, 1110 and 1184 cameĀ­--and went--by many names and characterizations: Proponents called them the Students Come First laws, believing they would limit the power of teachers' unions, boost Idaho students' access to technology and online learning, and implement a bonus structure to reward teachers for jobs well done.

Detractors saw them as eroding collective bargaining rights for educators and as a weak screen against the charge that Idaho underfunds its schools, branding them "the Luna Laws," an epithet derived from the name of their creator, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

By any name, they were among the most contentious issues of 2012.

Opposition to the laws came early and often. By May 2011, organizers who objected to the bills had drafted a petition and reached their goal of collecting enough signatures to get all three bills added to the 2012 ballot. From then on, they had yet another appellation: Propositions 1, 2 and 3.

But it was in leading up to the 2012 elections that tensions surrounding the propositions came to a head. In September, the Boise School Board, in a 6-0 vote, gave the Students Come First initiatives an official thumbs down, with Board Member Rory Jones describing them as "a power grab" and "interference in local control" over school boards.

Then the board released a draft of a scathing letter expressing a lack of confidence in Idaho School Boards Association Director Karen Echeverria for failing to allow detractors of the laws adequate voice in decision-making within the ISBA regarding the laws.

In October, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Luna announced that Hewlett-Packard would deliver 90,000 laptops to Idaho's public schools by the 2015-2016 school year at a cost of $180 million spread over eight years.

Finally, after weeks of heavy advertising on both sides of the issue, representatives of the Education Voters of Idaho, a pro-reform group, released the names of its donors under judge's orders. Top contributors included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joseph Scott, chairman of the board of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

On Nov. 6, all three of the Luna Laws were defeated at the ballot. For their opponents, it was huge.

"The ultimate poll was done Nov. 6, and that was done: There's no better poll than that," said Mike Lanza, chairman of the Campaign to Defeat Measures 1, 2 and 3.

For Lanza, defeating the measures was only a first step toward reaching a consensus about the real problems facing public education in Idaho.

"We recognize that we need budget matters to clear up and endorse a process in which state groups address questions about what schools need," he said. "The Luna Laws never identified the problem."

Otter and Luna have also indicated that the demise of Props. 1, 2 and 3 are a first step, as well. They and other Republican leaders are undeterred from reintroducing unspecified portions of the previous legislation in the future, describing their defeat as "a bump in the road."

At a press conference shortly after the election, Luna indicated that future reforms will emphasize components of the laws he said were widely agreed upon, including a dual credit proposal in which students could take up to 36 college credits funded by the state.

John McGee

In December 2011, Sen. John McGee was carefully crafting his comeback strategy. The Canyon County lawmaker and once-rising star in the Idaho Republican Party granted a select number of interviews, most of them on television, to offer his latest of a string of mea culpas.

"One of the things I can do is to be a responsible role model in my actions," said McGee on KTVB Channel 7.

McGee spoke in hushed tones about the difficulties of the past year.

McGee had already sidestepped a possible felony charge following a bizarre Father's Day 2011 driving escapade. He confessed to drinking way too much on June 19, 2011--his blood-alcohol level measured nearly double the legal driving limit--and two months later, when he emerged from an Ada County courtroom he sniffled that he had "hoped to win back the trust of those that I have disappointed."

By December, during the KTVB Channel 7 interview, McGee repeated that he was ready "to move forward." Within days of the beginning of the 2012 session, Idaho GOP senators elected to keep the four-term senator as their majority caucus chair.

But less than two months into the session, McGee was gone. Idaho's GOP elite said they had accepted McGee's resignation in the wake of sexual misconduct charges lodged by an Idaho Senate staffer. A judge would later say that McGee "used his position to victimize someone who had less power."

"It happened at the Capitol. It happened [while you held] a role as public servant. It happened when you were a senator," 4th District Magistrate James Cawthon lectured McGee at his August sentencing. "It's not a question of treating you differently. It's a question of treating you like any other public servant that misbehaves to the level of committing criminal behavior."

Before being taken away in handcuffs, McGee admitted to "acting inappropriately."

"I used language I should not have used," said McGee. "I conducted myself in a way that was offensive, and I am guilty of this."

McGee didn't elaborate, but prosecutors said their investigation found that McGee had isolated the female staffer on numerous occasions early in the 2012 legislative session, including at least one closed-door incident in which he made inappropriate sexual remarks, grabbed the woman's buttocks and suggested she perform oral sex on him. The victim told prosecutors that, on another occasion, McGee locked her in his office and asked her to take her shirt off. She said she ran from the room while McGee was masturbating.

McGee was carted off to jail, where he served a 44-day stint at the Ada County lockup. He was released on Sept. 29, five days early for good behavior, but remains on a two-year probation.

Meanwhile, a year after McGee's TV interviews, his behavior still casts a shadow over the Statehouse. Standing before 44 new Idaho lawmakers on Dec. 4, then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney welcomed the new crop of legislators to what he called "the goldfish bowl."

"You're going to have to be very, very careful what you do, when you do it, and how you do it because it may be the headline the next day."

Idaho Republican Party

Idaho's GOP elite got exactly what they bargained for when they introduced new measures in 2012, designed to gin up interest in its caucuses, primary and general election.

First, the party closed its primaries for the first time, allowing only registered Republicans to cast votes. The contentious move drew no shortage of controversy, as well as confusion among many in Idaho who thought they were Republicans but had never registered. Many Idahoans were forced to officially choose a party if they wanted to vote in the Republican primary.

When the party announced it would participate in the so-called Super Tuesday marathon for the first time, Gem State Republicans hoped they would get some notice from presidential hopefuls who, in years past, had bypassed Idaho. Party officials had no idea how much attention they were about to get. By the time thousands of Idahoans squeezed into arenas, school auditoriums and town halls, they had gotten some face time with Republican candidates Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The four hopefuls stood in what amounted to a circular firing squad, each taking verbal shots at the others. Paul called Santorum a "fake conservative." Santorum said Paul "passed one bill in 20 years" in the U.S. House of Representatives. Romney said Gingrich had to resign as speaker of the U.S. House "in disgrace." And Gingrich said Romney was "severely distant from the facts."

Ultimately, Idaho's GOP caucuses were historic, luring 44,000 Republicans out into a cold March night. In Ada County, where more than 9,000 packed Boise State University's Taco Bell Arena (2012's largest caucus turnout in the nation), Romney secured 4,223 votes, followed by Santorum, Paul and Gingrich. Elsewhere, Paul won Bonner, Boundary, Camas, Idaho, Latah and Nez Perce counties while Santorum won Benewah, Clearwater, Kootenai, Lewis, Owyhee, Shoshone and Washington counties.

But Article VI, Section 5 of the Rules of the Idaho Republican Party awarded all of the state GOP's 32 delegates to Romney because he won more than 50 percent of the total counties' proportion of delegates.

Super Tuesday catapulted Romney toward his party's nomination and he was even introduced on Aug. 30 to the Republican National Convention through a bizarre appearance from Clint Eastwood. (Romney recruited Eastwood to participate in the convention when Eastwood made a surprise appearance at an Aug. 3 Sun Valley fundraiser.) But Eastwood's RNC appearance, in which he offered a rambling speech directed to an empty chair, left many gobsmacked.

Idaho became one of Romney's cash cows, as the campaign raked in millions from supporters.

By the time the General Election dust had settled in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, Republicans had practically run the table, maintaining a chokehold on the Idaho House and Senate and U.S. congressional delegation. But its most prized target, the White House, still belonged to President Barack Obama.

Romney secured 64.5 percent of the Idaho vote on Election Night. His ardent supporters were a bit surprised, considering that 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain had won 61.5 percent of the Idaho vote four years earlier with considerably less funding and public support from the Gem State's GOP elite.

Even with the new declarations of unity, things turned ugly within the party, as some high-profile leaders--House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and former Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney--funneled money into the GunPAC, a political action committee that openly supported candidates challenging more moderate Republican incumbents.

The power play didn't earn many fans, and Denney was voted out of his leadership position when the newly elected House met in December, replaced by Oakley Rep. Scott Bedke.

Many observers expect that the party infighting will only continue, but such is the nature of the beast when one political party is so dominant for so long.

Winder's War

Among the scores of posters carried by protesters at the Idaho Statehouse during the 2012 Legislative session, one of the more startling included the words "Work On These" in large, bold colors, pointing to pictures of a foreclosed home, an Idaho roadway and a graduation cap. At the bottom of the sign, the words "Not Here" were written above a pair of women's panties that had been stapled to the cardboard.

"I was born in 1970," said Toni Sutton as she stood on the Capitol steps on April 28. "That means that I had more legal control over my body at the age of 3 than I have now. In the last 12 months, women have become sluts for taking birth control."

Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, isn't certain that the scene will be repeated in 2013, or at least she's not saying.

"I'm cautious to say about what we might see because, to be perfectly honest, we don't want to give anyone any ideas," said Greer. "If history teaches us anything in Idaho, we usually see women's health and anti-choice bills surface in a couple of other states before they pop up here. Of course, we saw ultrasound legislation surface in other states before we saw it."

Most Idahoans might not know Senate Bill 1387 by its formal moniker. Rather, they probably know it as "the ultrasound bill," legislation crafted by Boise Republican Sen. Chuck Winder with help from Right to Life of Idaho. The bill, as written, mandated all women considering abortion to undergo an ultrasound with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Winder's bill quickly passed through the Senate but before the House could take up the measure, word of the pending legislation began to spread.

"Idaho women and men, from across the political spectrum, didn't like what they saw," said Greer.

And there was plenty to see. In what became one of the most unusual moments in Statehouse history, supporters of SB 1387 filled a Capitol committee room, where live ultrasound demonstrations were performed on six pregnant women at different terms in their pregnancies.

"We want the babies in the womb to have the opportunity to testify," said Brandi Swindell from Stanton Healthcare. "The babies themselves deserve to have a choice in this debate."

But opponents were outraged.

"This is shaming of women," said Lea Bowman, a Boise social worker. "This is just religiously motivated."

When word of the controversial demonstration went viral, lawmakers' phone and email inboxes were jammed. Too many Idahoans had heard enough and within hours, the Idaho House canceled its hearing on the measure, effectively killing it.

"I would be surprised if we saw the exact same legislation in 2013," said Greer, but she quickly added, "If we do see a similar bill, it might come through the House. I think the State Senate doesn't want to be in the same position it found itself last year."