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

As December winds down, taking 2012 with it, we at Boise Weekly would like to be among the first to say congratulations for surviving the Mayan apocalypse. With all those pesky end-of-the-world concerns out of the way, it's time to get a little reflective about the year that was.

We know right now everyone is rolling out the "looking back" specials, attempting to analyze what happened and why. We're no strangers to the format ourselves; it has been a staple of our year-end issue for a long time. But we're also forward-looking people who think a little change can be a good thing.

That's why you may notice things look a little different from our previous Spuds and Duds features. This year, we decided to not only look back at what we think are some of the most important stories to come out of 2012, but to also offer some insight into what happened since the stories fell out of the headlines and how they might evolve in 2013.

When selecting our Top 12 stories, we tried to look beyond just the world of politics—although it was quite a year in that arena—to consider the things that influenced other spheres of life in the Treasure Valley. From groundbreaking cultural events to proposed legislation that rallied the masses to the changing face of Boise, it all has lingering effects on the lives of those of us who call this place home.

This is in no way a comprehensive list, and some may take issue with our selections, but Treasure Valley residents are an opinionated group, so we expect some healthy discourse.

Looking ahead to 2013, it's anyone's guess what will happen, but there are a few things we can depend on: Politicians will have us shaking our heads; more Idahoans will have us singing their praises; and BW will be back this same time next year, wrapping it all up.

--Deanna Darr

click to enlarge ANDREW CRISP

Add the Words

The most powerful symbol to emerge from the Idaho State Legislature's 2012 session came in the form of an innocuous office supply.

Post-It Notes sent in from thousands of Idahoans bore one simple message, "Add the Words." The pastel-colored emblems were plastered across legislative office doors, desks and anything else that they could stick to in an effort to urge legislators to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the Idaho's Civil Rights Act and Human Rights Act.

It was the latest and most organized effort to add protections for LGBT citizens, which would make it illegal for someone to lose housing, job or educational opportunities simply because he or she is gay or transsexual.

Despite hundreds of supporters turning out on a regular basis, the bill failed to make it out of the Senate State Affairs Committee on a strictly party-line vote, with the committee's six Republicans shooting it down.

"I can't even describe the feeling at the end of the session," said Mistie Tolman, co-chair of Add the Words. "Knowing that you had done all you had done and all you could do. And so many people came out in support and [legislators] would still turn their heads and turn a blind eye to this need."

But there was never a question that the effort would go on.

"It just feels that much more urgent," Tolman said.

Since then, Add the Words organizers have continued their work and the City of Boise enacted its own protections on Dec. 4, thanks to a 5-0 vote by the Boise City Council. Boise joins Sandpoint as the only Idaho cities to provide these protections, although Pocatello is working toward the same goal.

"We're so excited about it for so many different reasons," Tolman said. "We're really excited to see an elected body listen to their constituents. ... When you see people coming out in support, it's a lot harder for legislators to think, 'my constituents don't support this.'"

Tolman said the group is far from giving up on the state level, either.

"It's too important of a topic when we have people all over the state living in fear," she said.

Organizers are already planning to refocus their efforts for the 2013 legislative session, this time focusing on education of both citizens—explaining just what the Human Rights Act is—and legislators—showing the public support for the amendment.

Tolman said a recent survey conducted by Moore Information on behalf of the ACLU of Idaho showed that 81 percent of those surveyed felt it should be illegal to fire someone because he or she is gay.

Add the Words is also planning to host more events and panel discussions over the winter, as well as more face-to-face meetings with legislators.

"We do want to extend a hand of cooperation to the legislators," Tolman said, adding that she believes many felt they had an adversarial relationship with Add the Words.

"We're not working against them," she said. "We don't want them to feel that way. We would like to work with them. ... [They need to] keep being reminded of how important this issue is."

The most visual reminder of the issue will once again be the Post-It Notes Add the Words organizers have pledged to keep delivering.

"It's the only way, as of now, that our legislators have to hear the voices of Idahoans," Tolman said. "We won't stop until they've heard."

click to enlarge JESSICA MURI
  • Jessica Muri

Exergy Tour

In May, the long-sidelined sport of professional women's cycling in Idaho came roaring back in grand fashion during the inaugural Exergy Tour. The multi-stage event drew some of the best women's pro cycling teams from around the world to southwest Idaho, just before many of the competitors made their way to the 2012 London Olympics.

The race was a resounding success. Crowds lined the route each day of the event, surprising both organizers and racers with their enthusiasm. Maybe it was partly because crowds had the chance to cheer for hometown hero Kristin Armstrong who, despite falling and breaking her collarbone in the Exergy opening time trial, went on to win her second Olympic gold medal shortly thereafter.

It was the first time women's pro racing had been in the spotlight since 2003, when the Women's Challenge, which boasted one of the richest prize purses in women's racing, folded after 19 years.

Unfortunately, the Exergy Tour's sponsor—Exergy Development Group—has faced one challenge after the other since the race. First, the event cost nearly twice the $1 million budget Exergy Development Group had allocated. Then, new state regulations limiting wind energy development—Exergy's main income source—put a choke hold on the business.

In the wake of financial challenges, bills began piling up, as did the negative headlines.

While Exergy leaders were quick to point out the company was paying off its debt as soon as it could, the economic outlook didn't get any better.

In late November, Exergy announced that it was cutting funding to its men's cycling team, Team Exergy, in 2013, citing the sport's lax attitude toward doping.

The women's team, Exergy Twenty16, is still being funded, as are the company's youth outreach programs.

Repeated calls to Exergy were not returned by press time, but nothing has been decided about the fate of the Exergy Tour for 2013, according to earlier reports. However, City of Boise officials have gone on record stating that they would like to see the event return.

click to enlarge ANDREW CRISP

Construction in Downtown Boise

This summer, new construction in downtown Boise began in earnest. Thirty shovels with golden spades turned the first symbolic scoopfuls of dirt to inaugurate what will become the tallest building in Idaho and fill what may always be known as the Boise Hole.

"I think we all know the doldrums we've seen over the past few years, and we've shaken them. This is an economy on the move," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter July 12. "We need to have faith in our collective selves and faith in our city. Nothing shows that well-placed faith more than this project."

Bieter joined city and building officials in the groundbreaking at the site of the project, which sat empty at the center of the city for 25 years. In its place will be an 18-story office tower called Eighth and Main. Zions Bank--which financed the project--will occupy a portion of the building for its Idaho headquarters.

In August, David Bowar, project manager for Boise-based Engineered Structures, Inc., gave Boise Weekly a look into the future of the tower.

"This project will be 80 percent of my time for the next three years," Bowar said.

By October, a mammoth, bright blue crane stood above the skyline, lifting steel girders for the fast-growing structure.

Officials hope to cut the ribbon on the building by January 2014. But the tower wasn't the only major construction project launched in 2012.

Bowar also led a crew that completed Idaho's first Whole Foods location on Boise's Broadway Avenue between Front and Myrtle streets. That location includes a 35,000-square-foot facility for the grocer and a 15,000-square-foot Walgreens location.

On a smaller scale, crews also began work at 10th and Bannock streets, where Bend, Ore., brewer 10 Barrel Brewing Co. hopes to open a Boise location. Crews gutted a brick building to make way for tanks and seating areas, with an estimated completion date of spring 2013, although construction has been delayed numerous times over the last year (see Page 16).

Boise's urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corporation, also launched a series of streetscaping projects to update downtown sidewalks. Denoted by blue and green "CCDC @ Work" signs posted around the city, touch-ups included redoing the sidewalks and planting new trees along Ninth Street and an expansion of the sidewalk on 10th Street.

On Capitol Boulevard, the City of Boise raised a crane of its own to service the ongoing renovation at City Hall. Inside, crews installed new tile in the main lobby, with plans to update the building's brick-paved plaza in early 2013.

At the Old Ada County Courthouse at 514 W. Jefferson St., crews worked to refashion the 73-year-old building into a new center for law students. The building will house the Idaho Law Learning Center, including a Boise third-year law school program initiated by the University of Idaho College of Law, the Idaho State Law Library and other law-related public programs.

Meanwhile, the Simplot family's city block-sized tribute to the late J.R. Simplot began to take shape March 22. Situated on a 7.5-acre parcel, the $70 million project includes a 65,000-square-foot, six-story facility and a 3-acre park, as well as "little jewel boxes," which will showcase the family's tractor collection, according to project architects. Stainless steel slides, an amphitheater, a children's play area and a fountain are designed to draw people to the space. Officials estimate the project will be completed by summer 2014.

There are even more projects slated to break ground in 2013. Boise Weekly told readers about plans to install four retail buildings in a dirt parking lot at 300 S. Capitol Blvd., with evidence pointing to Trader Joe's as the key tenant. Across the river near Ann Morrison Park, 1004 Royal Blvd. is slated to become a five-story, 35,000-square-foot housing structure aimed at Boise State students. Meanwhile, transportation officials see a $12 million multi-modal transit center blossoming in the city's core, which could be under way by spring 2013.

Affordable Care Act

It took more than two years for the fight to overhaul the nation's health care system to reach Idaho. In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed the contentious law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to some, "Obamacare" to its opponents. It quickly became a centerpoint of the 2012 election and a political sticking point across the country.

Early on, Idaho joined a group of other states that tasked their attorneys general with fighting the bill in court, which ultimately led to the ACA's make-or-break moment in the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 28, the high court handed down a decision that upheld the laws but also stipulated states have flexibility in their implementation.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter quickly released a statement, saying he was disappointed with the decision.

"Obamacare has been bad for America from the beginning," said Otter. He called for the repeal of the ACA and showed support for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney. In July, Otter appointed 26 individuals to two separate working groups to study the potential effects of the ACA if implemented in Idaho.

One working group met with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials to evaluate Medicaid expansion and costs, which independent studies commissioned by the state revealed could mean as many as 100,000 new enrollees.

The second group was asked to deal with Idaho's position on creating a state-based health insurance exchange--a requirement of the ACA--or allowing the federal government to create one instead.

A group of state lawmakers who made up the legislature's health care task force quizzed officials representing the state's health care programs on July 30 at the Capitol. Rupert Republican Sen. Dean Cameron asked about the pros and cons of different insurance exchange decisions--including a popular option among opponents of the bill, doing nothing.

Meanwhile, during an August meeting the working group tasked with considering the health care insurance exchange, Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal guessed the cost of an health insurance exchange created by the state could reach $40 million, based on cost estimates from neighboring states, Washington and Oregon.

"Basically, we have ballparks on costs," said Deal.

Those months of talks came to a head in October, when the insurance exchange working group engaged in hours of debate on the subject. Alex LaBeau, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry president and panel member, expressed concerns about the ACA, saying the state-based exchange was "the better route."

"My recommendation, my motion, is that our recommendation to the governor is to pursue a state-based exchange through the nonprofit model, because it's probably the most flexible model," said LaBeau.

The group passed the motion, putting the 50-page report on the governor's desk.

On Dec. 11, just shy of the Dec. 14 deadline, Otter made his decision to steer Idaho toward creating its own health insurance exchange, subject to approval of the 2013 Idaho Legislature.

While groups such as the Tea Party of Boise and the Idaho Freedom Foundation urged the governor to do nothing, he inevitably sided with Idaho businesses and the influential IACI in creating a state-based exchange.

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