Suppose, just for the hell of it, you’d been out of town for the last three months. You come home and your lawnmower’s mysteriously broken, but nothing else seems to have changed. You ask what happened while you were gone and people stammer before they remember the mayor got his car booted. So much for the news.

Then: Boom.

UM cornerbacks Qwenton Freeman and Jimmy Wilson get implicated in an ugly L.A. murder case, and city council gets drawn into a no-win corner on Iraqi troop withdrawal, an issue of blazingly polarized opinion and zero effective consequence. They’re the biggest stories in town, in a town that sometimes goes begging for big stories. These should get us through until the fires hit, at least.

Then Peter Hance resigns from the Missoula Housing Authority. It’s hard to know what to make of that. It’s hard to know what to make of any of it.

Because the narratives are unresolved. The only people who know the real stories aren’t talking. Freeman and Wilson and UM can’t and won’t, for obvious reasons; council, quite rightly, just wants foreign policy off its already crowded plate; and Peter Hance apparently doesn’t much trust the Missoulian anymore.

So (as of Tuesday night) we just don’t know yet how involved Wilson and Freeman may have been in a murder (anyone remember the Duke lacrosse team case?), and we just don’t know whether Missoula will support a purely symbolic gesture of desire that a brutal war might end (though we can’t imagine why not), and we sure as hell don’t know what went down between Peter Hance and John Engen. (And if either of them is as smart as we’re pretty sure both of them are, neither will ever tell.)

But lack of narrative is just a good excuse to impose one, so try this on for size. Looks like Missoula is moving backwards. The beating progressive heart of Montana, home of the indisputably dominant Griz, a nationally recognized best place to live whether you’re a retiree, an information worker, a kayaker, or gay, is abandoning the lead.

Small-town college athletes brushing big-city crime? Bozeman’s been there and done that. Missoula’s playing catch-up.

Pointless but meaningful Bring ’Em Home ordinances? Butte-Silverbow already passed theirs. So did Helena. Missoula? Berkeley of the Rockies our ass. Put it off ’til November and let the people decide. Why go long when you can punt? Is progressive Missoula now playing second-string to Helena?

So much cultural and psychic regression probably says something profound about this town, but we can’t think what it is, so we’re putting that on the November ballot too. You decide. Is Missoula losing its edge, or just taking a summer nap?

Let us know what you think. We’ll tally the responses and let you know the results. In November.
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