2000: The Year in Preview 

Semi-serious staff predictions for the year to come in Montana

We thought it would never end. The 20th century, we mean. For a while there, in the waning days of 1999, it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk about was those dumb hundred years and what, if anything, they meant. In terms of media coverage, naturally, that meant posing tons of those vague, pointless and eminently foreseeable questions that you could only expect from the mainstream press. Was it a “good” century (Ghandi, polio vaccine, modernism)? Or was it a “bad” century (Hitler, Great Depression, disco)? Was it an “American Century,” in which our nation’s friendly influence spread throughout the globe (Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Carter, John Tesh)? Or was it only an “American Half-Century,” in which we vaulted to dominance somewhere in the middle there, but then weakened and became something of a global joke (Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Carter, John Tesh)? We say: Who cares. To heck with the 20th century. It’s over. Let us never speak of it again.

Instead, we want to talk about the future. And not what it means in the far-flung corners of the world, or even throughout the country, but here in western Montana, among our friends, families and neighbors. This, after all, is where history counts. So we took it upon ourselves to prognosticate, only somewhat seriously, about what the coming months hold in store for Montana. OK, not very seriously at all. But still, there are some things in the offing for our neck of the woods that we think are worth thinking about before they happen. If they ever do. To help you gauge for yourself just how likely our clairvoyances are to come true, we’ve taken the additional step of assigning each prediction a numerical percentage of likelihood. In soothsaying circles, it’s known as the Calculated Reality Attainment Percentile, or the CRAP factor.

So without further ado, here’s what we see in our community’s future. Maybe we’re right. Maybe we’re wrong. But someone’s got to cover the news before it happens, and we’re the only ones with the crystal balls to do it. Have a nice century.

Prediction: Missoula Osprey score a final nesting place CRAP factor: 87 percent

A casual perusal of the box scores from the 1999 season for the Missoula Osprey minor league baseball team reveals a solid record of runs, hits and errors, not to mention a .400-plus batting average for the obligatory shouting, spitting, moaning, groaning, scratching, crotch-grabbing and kicking of dirt on the shoes of officials. Most of which, by the way, occurred off the baseball diamond and in City Council chambers.

Although Missoula’s new boys of summer finished their inaugural season with a respectable record, 1999 was also the year when potential locations for the new stadium were floated like so many trial balloons by Play Ball Missoula virtually on a weekly basis, seemingly zig-zagging the county map like an Etch-A-Sketch in the hands of a sugar-addled four-year-old.

Among the sites that were offered up were McCormick Park, the University of Montana’s Dornblaser Field, some unspecified knapweed-infested no man’s land out by Missoula International Airport, McCormick Park (yet again) and, finally, the old Champion Mill site and toxic burial site.

Nearly all the locations (except the airport idea) were met with stiff neighborhood opposition at every turn. Potential snagging points ran the gamut from noise, traffic, litter and drunken fans with bladder issues to the legality of the city signing over public park land to a private corporate interest, to the question of whether this out-of-state business entity even has the financial clout to make a stadium fly.

Compounding the clamor were the nascent neighborhood councils who argued that their voices weren’t being heeded, to the Missoula Softball Association, which threatened a lawsuit if their fields are surrendered to overhand pitchers. It seemed that no bit of Apple Pie and root-for-the-home-team theatrics were going to help Play Ball Missoula or the O’s in stealing a home.

As for the 2000 season, however, our predictions are that the team will finally land itself a nest, which, like the real osprey, will reside along the Clark Fork River at the Champion Mill site. Despite some rock-solid talking points from opponents of that location—not the least of which is that a 3,500 seat stadium has never been factored into the city’s or any neighborhood’s Comprehensive Plan—assurances will be given, egos stroked, political muscles flexed, checkbooks creased and ultimately, a deal will be signed.

For as Walt Whitman once wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” And with blessings like this, who needs curses? (KP) Prediction: Marc Racicot gets taken down a notch CRAP factor: 13.7

It’s certainly no secret that Marc Racicot has been the fair-haired boy of the national Republican party for some time now. Last year, he took a trip to the Middle East with a bunch of other GOP big-wigs, cutting a figure for himself in the international scene. And just last month, he blew off a public forum on the rash of asbestiosis in his hometown of Libby, in order to coach his buddy George W. Bush for the presidential candidates’ debate. People have even begun, although in somewhat hushed tones, to mention the title “Secretary of the Interior” in conjunction with his name. Regardless of the gossip, let’s just face it: Racicot and the Republican party are deeply in love. They have their eyes on him, and he has his eyes on Washington. Too bad the relationship may not go anywhere.

That’s right, at least one of the Independent’s contracted soothsayers says that something will go wrong—terribly wrong—with Racicot’s bid to become part of the Bush Cabinet. Specifically, it will happen like this: In the last of the televised debates between presidential candidates this fall, Bush will snap. The reasons are unclear. But he will appear onstage, under the harsh and punishing lights of television, with a pair of jockey shorts on his head. Then, just as the mics are flicked on, he will proceed to declare war on Kentucky and pledge to outlaw all shiny objects, “which might distract us from the work of governance,” whatever that means. A crush of security agents and PR handlers will swoop down on him and escort him offstage. A mismeasured dosage of Saint John’s Wort will later be blamed. But it will be too late. The damage will have been done. America will pin the tail on the donkey and elect the Democrats by default. And our man Marc, along with a horde of other presidential job-seekers, will be plumb out of luck.

Where will our governor’s misfortune lead him? Reply hazy. Try again later. But the best guesses we can eke out are: A) towel boy for the Grizzlies, B) publicity flack for the W. R. Grace Company or C) staff counsel for the Missoula Independent. For the record, we wish him the best of luck in the coming year. (BdeP)

Prediction: The new millennium becomes the ubiquitous buzzword, campaign finance reform becomes the mantra on every candidates’ lips, and the entrenched corporate agenda remains the dominant paradigm until Y3K CRAP Factor: 99.98

Among us politics wonks at the Independent, there seems little point in disclosing our forecasts this early in the races. After all, we have a full 10 months for candidates at the county, state, and national level to immerse themselves waist-deep in a stewpot of compromising and embarrassing hot water. So why spoil everyone’s fun by letting you know what’s coming down the pike? We might as well tell you about that surprise party we have planned for you next week. Besides, our Election 2000 computers were never made Y2K compatible, so we’re still predicting William Jennings Bryan to edge out William McKinley’s “four years more of the full dinner-pail,” with Eugene Debs making a respectable showing as a third party candidate. After all, people can’t vote according to their wallets forever, can they?

At the national level, the 2000 election will be noteworthy less for its outcome than the process itself. Among the Democrats, we predict Al Gore’s recent campaign challenge to former Sen. Bill Bradley to mutually abstain from all television advertising in exchange for weekly televised debates will be met in early February with a similar challenge from the Bradley camp, to play weekly one-on-one basketball games in school gymnasiums and church parking lots across the country. In a surprise move, the Gore camp will accept the challenge, but the pick-up games will never materialize, as neither side is able to reach an agreement on whether it’s winner’s out or loser’s out. Meanwhile, all four networks balk at the idea of televising the games after someone raises the shirts v. skins issue.

Among the Republicans, we predict George W. Bush’s financial steamroller will continue to barrel across the nation, vacuuming up such vast sums of money that both Donald Trump and Steve Forbes cry foul over a democratic system usurped by the influence of big money. In early July, Ross Perot will tell them all to quit their bellyachin’ and suggest settling the whole shebang with an all-night poker game at his house.

Back home in Big Sky Country, Brian Schweitzer will continue running seniors across the Canadian border to buy prescription drugs to call attention to the astronomical cost of pharmaceuticals in the U.S., until one elderly member of his entourage is nabbed for operating an illegal Viagra ring out of a Bozeman nursing home.

Meanwhile, incumbent Conrad Burns will continue to enjoy a solid double-digit lead over his challenger, despite repeating his disparaging reference to Arab-Americans as “rag-heads.”

As for the ensuing battle between Mike Schwinden and Linda McCulloch for state superintendent of public instruction, do we really have to tell you? I mean, this one’s so obvious! (KP) Prediction: Missoula’s military outpost falls into the right hands CRAP factor: 91.7

Though they will do it with their trademark inefficiency, the foot-draggers at the U.S. Department of the Army will, in fact, finally sign over the Garden City’s historic Fort Missoula into civilian hands this year. While the plan to turn over the fort has been in the wind since the waning days of the Bush Administration (the old broccoli Bush, not the young cocaine one), the process has proved to be a nexus of structural inspections, historical surveys, unattended ceremonies and paperwork shufflings so complex that, if nothing else, it has served as a fittingly symbolic conclusion to the Cold War that made bureaucracy a way of life for generations of Americans.

But in the end, it will be worth it. The lion’s share of the fort will become property of the Northern Rockies Heritage Center, which has already begun the process of turning the soon-to-be-decommissioned base into a hothouse for cultural, educational, and historical groups. Organizations like the International Wildlife Film Festival and the Outdoor Writer’s Association have already hung up their shingles there; it’s just a matter of time, we think, until the old fort becomes something of a cultural nerve center for western Montana and, perhaps, the entire Northern Rockies.

The problem is when. Although the army’s overseer for the transfer told us this fall, and we quote, that the deal would become official in “January, February, March,” our Spider Sense™ tells us that it will actually be more like “April, May, June.” If not later. Call it a hunch. (BdeP)

Prediction: The new flat tax proposal falls flat on its face CRAP factor: 75.8

Read our lips: No new tax proposals. At least, that’s how we would have it. But odds are, we’ll be hearing a lot about a new tax plan for Montana in the months to come.

Though it’s not on the radar screen of most Montanans, the fact is there’s a new initiative on its way to the 2000 election ballot, and it sounds eerily familiar. Around Halloween of 1999, Secretary of State Mike Cooney OK’d a ballot proposal that, if approved, would replace most state taxes with a flat transaction tax and—are you ready?—require voter approval for all new taxes. Dubbed CI-80, the initiative was put forth by a group called Citizens for Fair Taxes and Better Government, despite the fact that, just last year, the state Supreme Court shot down the now-notorious CI-75, a proposed amendment that also called for the voters’ go-ahead for all new taxes and fees. Sounds nice, the high court said in so many words, but it’s just not legal.

Nonetheless, CI-75 was alive long enough to create this offspring, which was submitted to the Secretary of State’s office this summer just in time to make one last round through the Treasure State’s political system. CI-80 is already making the rounds as a petition and is gaining signatures as we speak. Our prognosticators say it’ll probably pass the muster to make it onto the ballot—after all, who doesn’t hate paying taxes to The Man?—but no matter how the vote goes, the issue will eventually find itself flat on its face. Expect to hear a lot about CI-80 for a while—and then never hear of it again. (BdeP) Prediction: Chaos—and grizzlies—consume the Bitterroot Valley CRAP factor: 85.0

The grand opening of the first phase of the Birch Creek Acres at the Stevensville Wye—Ravalli County’s largest new housing and commercial development—will be marred slightly by the unannounced arrival of the federal government’s grizzly reintroduction team. These fans of the griz—who will have taken to wearing “You lose” T-shirts to recent community meetings since the victorious Green Party pushed the great bear’s reintroduction through Congress—will promptly climb the podium, elbow community leaders aside and declare that the parklands and green belt area of the new town off limits to all humans. The area, it seems, will be a crucial corridor to allow the bears to commute from their alpine meadows in the western mountains back to the banks of the Bitterroot River. In fact, all open space in Ravalli County that has trees and grass growing on it will be considered prime bear habitat and may be posted and declared people-free as need arises.

“Tiger better watch out—we’ve got lions and bears, oh, my!,” one reintroduction enthusiast will announce, referring to the upcoming celebrity golf tournament at the new Stock Farm course near Hamilton. “And we’re ready to stop the ball-whacking if we have to.”

In response to these surprise announcements, members of Concerned About Grizzlies (CAG) will themselves announce that they would be forming a Cement Comitatus Committee and deputizing Pavement Patrols on streets in the burgeoning town many folks are now calling “Son of Stevensville.”

“They might keep us out of the trees but our asses are by god gonna be on the asphalt and we’re armed,” a CAG member will be heard to say. “Me and my .30-06 are gonna make sure no more kids and old ladies wind up as Scooby Snacks for those damn bears.”

For their part, community leaders will say they were planning to ask the county commissioners to apply for a grant to study the grizzly bear/human conflicts and might expect to have proposals for solutions within two or three years. In the meantime, they will applaud the volunteer efforts of CAG to assist families in the new development.

“They’re just touchy men with itchy trigger fingers and massive armament,” one new resident will note. “That’s just what I enjoy seeing when I look out my windows each evening. Security is in the eye of the beholder.”

Developers of the housing area may furthermore put a positive spin on the recent bear sightings and quickly erect large signs along Highway 93 declaring: “Wildlife on every walkway.”

Across the fence, members of the Bitterroot Motor Sports Association will listen with amusement. “This doesn’t concern us at all,” one member will be heard saying. “There isn’t a blade of grass or a single tree on this racetrack.” (RT)

Prediction: Mount Sentinel’s M remains right where it is CRAP factor: 98.75

Visitors to Montana are perpetually amused by the native fondness for erecting huge concrete or stone initials on bare hillsides. Hot Springs, Drummond, Bozeman, Butte—it speaks well of Montanans and their sense of civic pride that no matter how large or small the town, its inhabitants see fit to commemorate their settlement or something in it by marching up the mountain and erecting a giant, iconic reminder in a font big enough to be seen from orbit.

The M on Sentinel doesn’t stand for “Missoula,” but it’s found its way into the local iconography with a frequency and persistence that easily laps the Peace Sign or the Milwaukee Station terminal. We hike to it, we doodle its switchbacks on letters and envelopes. Saying that Missoula loves its M might be overstating the case a bit, but what if something were to happen to it? What if we had to hand it back over to the Chinese, like Hong Kong and Macau? What if terrorists blew it up? What if an elite cadre of engineering students from Montana State dismantled it under cover of darkness, toted it down the mountain in knapsacks, and reassembled it in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse as part of a Cat-Griz prank?

Well, it’s pretty big, and that fact alone makes it somewhat imperturbable to a would-be thief or retrocessionist. An earlier model was made of wood and actually blew off the mountain during a stiff windstorm, but there’s no moving a hundred tons of concrete without someone getting wise in a hurry. As for terrorism: the M has been the staging area for a couple of memorable paint attacks, but nothing a little whitewash couldn’t fix. The face of Mount Sentinel is another story—we’ve had no problem destroying that.

If we do anything to wreck the M itself, it will probably be with the best of intentions. Like building another M right next to it to celebrate the new millennium in Roman numerals. You may scoff, but would you really put it past some of the dunderheads out there? The French had a great thing going with the Louvre until some genius thought it might be better still if I.M. Pei built a big glass pyramid onto it.

As it stands, Missoula enters the year 2000 with one L and one M adorning our hillsides, leaving extraterrestrial voyeurs familiar with the Roman numbering system to ponder this riddle: 950 what? (AS)

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