Bold predictions for 2014 

Grizzlies, the Griz, guest prognosticators and more!

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Guest prognosticator: Dan Brooks, Indy columnist and writer at

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.

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