Bold predictions for 2014 

Grizzlies, the Griz, guest prognosticators and more!

Welcome to 2014. When the calendar flips to another new year, we tend to mark the occasion with renewed hope and anticipation. Resolutions are made. Bad memories are discarded. Fortunes are cast. For the second consecutive year, we're doing our part with a list of bold predictions, compiled by our staff and some select members of the Missoula community.

A lot can happen in 365 days. It takes a certain combination of luck, insight and calculated risk to accurately foretell what some of those happenings might be. A bold prediction doesn't always hit the bullseye—just look at the results from last year's issue in our accompanying sidebar—but they often set a certain level of expectation for the year ahead. And when a bold prediction does hit pay dirt, well, that means something is going right—or, in some cases, horribly wrong.

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Montana becomes the beeriest state of all

With the opening of three new microbreweries in the greater Missoula area, as well as a string of new taprooms in Whitefish, Livingston, Great Falls and Sidney, Montana finally and officially topples Vermont from its position as the state with the most breweries per capita.

Vermont currently has one brewery for every 24,066 residents. Taking into account planned openings for 2014, Montana will soon have a brewery for every 21,382 residents. Montanans will celebrate by doing what they pretty much already do on a daily basis: Drinking craft beer.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Barry Beach is freed from prison (again, and for good)

The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, along with Gov. Steve Bullock, support Barry Beach's petition for clemency, enabling him to be freed from prison after serving decades for a crime that he maintains he did not commit.

By now, Beach's story is well known. In 1983, he confessed to killing 17-year-old Kim Nees on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Weeks later, he said that he "broke weak" on the heels of a seven-hour police interrogation, during which detectives threatened him with the electric chair. Beach received a 100-year sentence with no chance of parole.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

In 2011, Roosevelt County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips found that new evidence introduced by Beach's attorneys warranted a new trial. After serving nearly 30 years in prison, Beach was released on his own recognizance pending a new trial. During the 18 months that Beach lived free, he worked full time and spoke to students and social service organizations about his experiences. Beach also championed the causes of others he believed had been wrongfully convicted.

But on May 14, 2013, the Montana Supreme Court reinstated Beach's sentence. In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the new evidence cited by Phillips did "not displace the evidence tested at Beach's trial, including his confession."

The decision shocked and angered Beach's supporters. An online petition calling to "Free Barry Beach" garnered 15,000 signatures. A September clemency request to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, meanwhile, drew more than 200 letters of support from notables including Sen. Jon Tester, former Sen. Conrad Burns and Bullock's predecessor, Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

In 2014, Bullock and the Parole Board will approve Beach's clemency request, enabling him to return to Billings to continue building the life that he started during his 18 months of freedom.


Grizzlies get delisted

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service heeds the late 2013 recommendation from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and drafts a new rule lifting Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. History repeats itself as environmentalists challenge the delisting decision in court, this time on the grounds that a dramatic decline in elk numbers has left the bears without another key food source. The anti-wolf contingent in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana quickly hijacks the message, publicly blaming the grizzly's plight on wolves and arguing that state wildlife agencies should allow unregulated hunting of wolves throughout the Yellowstone region as a conservation measure for other species.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM PEACO, NPS
  • photo courtesy of Jim Peaco, NPS

Guest prognosticator: John Engen, mayor of the city of Missoula

Something majorly controversial will happen (and we'll survive)

During the course of eight years serving as Missoula's mayor, I've learned that predicting much of anything is a risky business in local government. Still, once in a while, I'm willing to stick my neck out and prognosticate.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

So, my bold prediction for the city of Missoula in 2014: A controversy will arise. Some folks will think it's the worst thing that's ever happened to the good people of our fair city, while others will believe it's the best thing that could ever happen for the citizens of Missoula. We'll talk about it at a city council meeting or two. There will be a vote. And we'll wait for the next controversy to come our way.

In the meantime, most Missoulians will continue to love this place we call home and will appreciate all our city has to offer. And that ain't bad.


Guest prognosticator: Dan Brooks, Indy columnist and writer at combatblog.net

That controversy? Missoula buys Mountain Water Co.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my bold prediction for 2014, because obviously I want to be right. My first plan was to be right factually. I might predict that online commenters would be outraged and scared by roundabouts in the Russell Street expansion, or that homeless people, finally prohibited from asking us for help downtown, would turn into marketing assistants and fly away. These are sure divinations of the future, but anybody can be right about facts.

I realized it was better to be right in the sense of being popular, as anyone who went to middle school will tell you. I predicted that the Griz would inadvertently win the 2014 World Cup while vacationing in Rio, but then I pulled it back to "next year, Missoula and craft beer will continue to rule." That was my working draft for a long time, but it felt kind of safe.

So here is my bold, possibly self-destructive prediction: Missoula will buy back its water supply in 2014, and no one will like it. I can feel half of you getting bored already, while the other half read on to find a quote to disagree with. But it's happening. Mayor Engen has the political credit to do it, and he will.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

More importantly, he should. My bold prediction is that Engen will catch hell for buying Mountain Water in 2014, and in 2034 Missoulians will fall off their hoverboards when they hear that our water supply was once owned by a private company. But that's the distant, hypererotic future. In the near term, the mayor has a fight on his hands.

Buying Mountain Water feels like a big change, and no one really wants Missoula to be different. That's why we live here. City water seems like the end of something, but it's not. It's the beginning of a town that manages itself a little more carefully—one that's grown in the last decade and learned plenty doing it. Engen's plan is a good one, and I boldly predict that the good people of Missoula will agree with him, eventually.


A gay bar opens in Missoula

Missoula is arguably the center of gay life in Montana. It passed the state's first LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in 2010. The Human Rights Campaign recently gave the city a 100-percent rating for its gay-friendly atmosphere. In 2007, The Advocate even included the city in its list of best places for gays and lesbians to live.

Missoula's pretty gay, but not all the way. It's missing something fairly important: a gay bar. There's not one. Anywhere.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

With its reputation as a hub for the LGBT community, and its prowess as a beer drinker's paradise, the absence of a good watering hole is hard to understand. But by this time next year, a gay bar—preferably a dive-y joint with old-time flair and a piano; definitely a piano—will open its doors and thrive.


Guest prognosticator: Nancy de Pastino, regional manager and Montana chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

U.S. Congress passes expanded background checks on gun sales with help from Montana's delegation

As disappointed as we were to see the federal government fail to pass something as universally popular as background checks on gun sales after the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary, make no mistake—that horrific event was a game changer. The day after, a movement was born. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America grew exponentially last year and includes more than 135,000 members with chapters in all 50 states. Our recent merger with Mayors Against Illegal Guns (three of those 1,000-plus mayors are in Montana, and Mayor Engen is one) makes us the most powerful force ever to stand up for what's right in America, and the influence of Moms and Mayors is going to be felt far and wide. Sen. Max Baucus, who has been strong-armed by the National Rifle Association, couldn't find the strength to vote for expanded background checks, even when the polls showed 79 percent of Montanans supported the measure. With his early departure from the Senate to become U.S. ambassador to China, we're confident that whomever Gov. Steve Bullock appoints will join Sen. Jon Tester in voting to expand background checks like the overwhelming majority of Americans want.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder

Montana's medical marijuana industry rebounds

A Helena District Court judge is slated to rule (again) in 2014 on the constitutionality of the state's Medical Marijuana Act. Specifically, the judge will consider changes made by the 2011 Montana Legislature, including the limit of three patients per provider, prohibiting any profit from cannabis sales and a ban on advertising.

In 2011 and again in January 2013, Helena District Court Judge James P. Reynolds found that medical marijuana patients statewide would suffer irreparable harm if the legislative changes were allowed to take effect, and he temporarily banned the new regulations from being implemented pending a final trial. This year, Reynolds will permanently derail the legislature's attempts to cut down Montana's Medical Marijuana Act, which voters passed by a 62-percent margin in 2004.

click to enlarge CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters

The ripple effect of this case will be considerable. The state, as represented by the Montana Attorney General's Office, will have a change of heart and opt to let Reynolds' decision stand, rather than appealing to the state Supreme Court. Dispensaries, which once dotted downtown streets and have just recently emerged again in Missoula, will reappear. Advertising will come back. The state registry of patients will continue to grow. Overall, the state's medical marijuana industry will experience a resurgence and lay the foundation for a future effort to follow the path of Washington and Colorado to outright legalize the drug. But that last part is a bold prediction for another year.


A major program lures away Griz basketball coach Wayne Tinkle

The University of Montana has a tradition of developing some of the best college basketball coaches in the nation, and Wayne Tinkle is poised to follow in the footsteps of Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Blaine Taylor and Larry Krystkowiak. Tinkle has already won back-to-back Big Sky championships and led the Griz to the NCAA tournament three of the last four years, but the 2013-2014 season will be his best coaching effort yet. Despite average talent (aside from Kareem Jamar) and an alarming lack of inside presence, he'll somehow orchestrate another championship-game run. Top-tier schools—think Washington State, Oregon State or even Stanford—will take notice and lure Tinkle away with the big-time contract he deserves. As an added bonus, whichever school smartly hires Tinkle will immediately jump into contention for recruiting his 6-foot-6 (and still growing) son, Tres, who is considered the state's best high school player.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TODD GOODRICH
  • photo courtesy of Todd Goodrich

Guest prognosticator: Lance Hughes, aka Lando, star of the 2014 Lando calendar (lando406.com) and self-proclaimed creator of chocolate whiskey

We're all gonna die because of that damn Yellowstone caldera

I totally had a dream about this so it's going to happen. Sometime this summer, that super-volcano in Yellowstone is gonna blow. We're all going to die. There's nothing we can do, except enjoy everything while we still can. But just in case I'm wrongGo Griz!

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM PEACO, NPS
  • photo courtesy of Jim Peaco, NPS

Guest prognosticator: Ellie Hill, Democratic state legislator from Missoula and reigning Best of Missoula winner for Most Likely to Lead the Revolution

Montana politics steal the national spotlight

Sen. Max Baucus announced his retirement, surprising many with the news—even longtime staffers—and leaving Montanans with seemingly no succession plan. Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester's pick for Baucus' replacement is Lt. Gov. John Walsh. For those who follow the dysfunctional inner-workings of Montana's Democratic Party, they won't be surprised to find out that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has picked someone else—his administration's lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger. The Republicans, meanwhile, have tapped current U.S. Congressman Steve Daines to replace Baucus; Daines is destined to win the Republican primary. Regardless of whom Daines faces, Montana's race for the U.S. Senate will be among the most expensive in United States history, especially in a post-Citizens United world. The national media will be even more interested because the political party that wins in Montana will help decide who controls the Senate during Obama's last few years to secure his presidential legacy.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder

Then there's Schweitzer. He ignored national pressure to run for Senate—rumors are that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid himself had all but begged him to toss his hat into the ring—and instead is doing everything short of announcing his candidacy for the Oval Office. He's already made national headlines for firing shot after shot across Hillary Clinton's bow. He criticized her vote to authorize military action in Iraq, telling CNN, "Anybody who runs in this cycle, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, if they were in the United States Senate and they voted with George Bush to go to Iraq when I would say about 98 percent of America knows that it was a folly, that it was a waste of treasure and blood, and if they voted to go to Iraq, there will be questions for them on the left and from the right." Then, after noting that a high percentage of Democratic primary voters are women and agreeing that it is "time for a woman president," Schweitzer took another shot at Clinton. "There's a whole lot of America that looks at each other and says, 'Well, there's 340 million people living in America. Isn't there somebody other than a Bush or a Clinton who can be president in these modern times?'"

Between Bullock's impending appointment to fill Baucus' seat (I predict it's Walsh), the 2014 U.S. Senate race (I predict Walsh beats Daines) and Schweitzer's ongoing flirtation with the presidency, Montana will be the focus of national media attention throughout the year.


Guest prognosticator: Adam Hertz, Missoula city councilman

Daines wins the Senate; Republicans take back majority

After the resignation of Sen. Max Baucus, Gov. Steve Bullock will appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh to finish out Baucus' term. The resignation and subsequent appointment will prove to be a political calculation gone sideways. Despite Washington, D.C.'s attempt to hand-pick Montana's Senate representation, Montanans will proclaim our independence. Congressman Steve Daines will be the first Republican in over 100 years elected to the seat formerly held by Baucus, leading the GOP to take back the majority in the Senate.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF STEVE DAINES
  • photo courtesy of the Office of Steve Daines

Washington-Grizzly Stadium finally hosts another blockbuster concert

With budget issues and declining enrollment continuing to plague the University of Montana, new revenue streams and added incentive for prospective students need to be found—like hosting headline-grabbing music events at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It's only happened twice—Pearl Jam in 1998, the Rolling Stones in 2006and we think it's past time for national touring acts to return to Missoula's largest venue. The Indy has touched on this before—we joked two years ago that Prince and/or Van Halen would be an inspired choice—but we now know the perfect performer to fit the bill. It's Phish that fills the seats, pumps considerable dough into the local economy with its legion of traveling fans, and generates some much-needed excitement among UM's granola-flavored student body.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder

How'd we do with last year's bold predictions?

The Montana Legislature concludes a shockingly punch line-free session: Depends on whom you ask. There were plenty of bizarre bills, headline-grabbing debates and, yes, punch lines. That said, the 2013 session seemed far more professional than the 2011 circus.

Volumen reunite for one last show, courtesy of guest prognosticator Colin Hickey: Unfortunately for loyal local fans, they did not. But we're now holding out hope for 2014.

The Spokanification of Missoula reaches new levels: Yes, without a doubt. We predicted that our valley would see plenty of new national chains open their doors, and specifically a new Cabela's. In fact, the national outdoor retailer is set to unveil a new Outpost on Brooks Street this spring, surrounded by a Kohl's department store, Petco and an already opened Boot Barn. World Market, a San Francisco-based chain, announced its own opening near Southgate Mall. In downtown Missoula, Dickey's Barbecue Pit, based out of Texas, bumped a local grill inside the Badlander complex, while Subway opened a new location inside the bus terminal that was previously occupied by a local pizzeria.

John Mayer plays back-to-back benefit concerts at the Wilma; ends second show with proposal to Katy Perry: Not so much. But the on-again, off-again celebrity couple did collaborate on two duets this year (one for Mayer's Montana-inspired album, Paradise Valley, the other for Perry's upcoming release) and multiple tabloids report the pop stars are set to get engaged. Could that proposal happen at Mayer's Montana ranch?

Gov. Brian Schweitzer announces a 2016 presidential run: Not yet, although the former governor does continue to toy with the idea by teasing the national media with suggestive remarks and trips to key primary states.

Republicans line up to challenge Max Baucus; campaign spending goes through the roof: Baucus pulled the rug out from under this prediction—and national politics—when he announced in April that he'd retire at the end of his term. Things got further muddled when President Barack Obama tapped Baucus as the next ambassador to China, forcing Gov. Steve Bullock to appoint an interim lawmaker to the senior senator's seat. All the chaos puts Montana's 2014 race for U.S. Senate in the national spotlight, and prompted three different predictions from our guest prognosticators this year.

Four of Montana's largest cities embrace LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances, courtesy of guest prognosticator Caitlin Copple: Progress is being made, but this prediction fell short. Only Helena and Missoula have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances, passed in 2012 and 2010 respectively. Bozeman is close behind, however. In December, activists launched the Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance Campaign to pressure city council members to enact such a proposal.

Montana's medical marijuana law becomes moot, courtesy of guest prognosticator Dan Brooks: Kinda, but not for the reasons Brooks suggested. He believed legalization in Colorado and Washington would flood the state with product. Whether or not that's true—ask your dealer, we're not sure—Helena District Court Judge James P. Reynolds ruled in January that elements of the Montana law were unconstitutional, leading to new dispensaries opening in Missoula.

Missoula experiences a robust economic rebound, courtesy of guest prognosticator James Grunke: Sorta! Grunke, who serves as CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, put it this way: "We did not achieve robust, but we did achieve rebound." Grunke says the county exceeded its growth expectations, with the local economy growing about 2.5 percent in the last year. The state created 3,100 jobs in the third quarter, with 90 percent of those coming in Missoula, Cascade and Yellowstone counties. Unemployment, meanwhile, hovers around 5 percent in Missoula County.

Construction of the Keystone Pipeline in Montana stalls amid more protest: Winner, winner, chicken dinner. TransCanada started construction on the southern portion of the pipeline two years ago, but in Montana no construction has begun, thanks to public opposition. The northern section of the pipeline, which crosses into the United States from Canada, remains under final review from the State Department.

Winter In the Blood makes Roger Ebert's list of top films: Sadly, no, because there wasn't a list. The beloved film critic died in April after a long fight with cancer. The Montana-made drama did, however, debut in 2013 to mostly positive reviews.

Montana celebrates its first MMA world champion, courtesy of guest prognosticator Ben Fowlkes: No Rocky storyline here. Lloyd Woodward, a MMA fighter from Missoula, lost in the Bellator Season 8 Lightweight Tournament quarterfinals in January.

UM hires Dave Dickenson as football coach, courtesy of guest prognosticator Chad Dundas: This was among our more detailed and creative predictions, but there are no moral victories in sports. Current coach Mick Delaney, who led the Griz back to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2013, earned a one-year contract extension in November.

Montana's first wolf-trapping season backfires: Somewhere in between. Our harvest prediction was off. Last season's total of 166 wolves increased to 225 this year, with 97 taken by trappers. But the latter half of the prediction—about emboldening the anti-trapping contingent—definitely held true. Footloose Montana's running tally of incidental captures ballooned at the onset of last year's trapping season. Numerous petitions to stop wolf trapping popped up online. And then there's the "Wolf Hunt Sabotage" manual released to the public by Earth First! Media this fall, detailing methods of disarming, dismantling or otherwise messing with traps without getting caught.

Global oil prices spike, sending U.S. gas prices to $6 per gallon, courtesy of guest prognosticator Steve Running: This very bold prediction from the UM climate scientist didn't happen. Average U.S. gas prices never went above $3.75.

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