The Cluck-ups 

An offbeat review of 2008's most dubious accomplishments

Last year’s inaugural Cluck-ups managed to make the Missoula City Council mad, poke fun at former Sen. Conrad Burns and ruffle the feathers, so to speak, of those who expected a more conventional recap of 2007. With such a spirited response, of course we wanted to take aim again in 2008.

Luckily, we found no shortage of appropriate fodder. This was an election year and nobody seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease or fall victim to sublimely senseless decision-making more than candidates running for public office. In addition to the usual suspects—Rehberg, Obama, McCain, Schweitzer, Schweitzer’s dog Jag, who earned his own sidebar—we managed to work in good ol’ Connie Burns again. You could say old habits die hard.

Speaking of old habits, we’ve stuck with the same title as last year. City Council may have taken exception to our characterization of the drawn-out chicken debates that dominated 2007, but we think they’ve forgiven us. At least for that. Plus, we couldn’t think of anything catchy to go with “zoning re-writes.”

So, Cluck-ups, part two, it is. Without further ado, we present our list of local notables who laid an egg this past year.

God apparently eats beef
Thirty-seven tons of soybeans spilled into the Clark Fork River outside of Plains after a 19-car train derailment on Oct. 22. The previous day, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named the University of Montana a vegetarian-friendly campus, helping to win over a “traditionally cattle-ranching state, one meal at a time.”

Maybe they could ask ’em to
recycle the envelopes

Recycle Montana, a Helena-based nonprofit dedicated to improving recycling education statewide, received no response to its inaugural membership drive after a snafu at the post office caused five weeks worth of incoming mail to bounce back, labeled “Return to Sender, Address Unknown.” The organization asked would-be donors—via e-mail, by the way—to “please try us again.”

A simple offering from our
humble state, part one

Montana and the Bitterroot National Forest were asked to provide this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree, carrying on a tradition started in 1970. According to the website dedicated to the 2008 tree, the ritual started after our country’s leaders wanted to find a way “to focus the nation’s attention, ever so briefly, on a single and most beautiful symbol of the season—the Capitol Christmas Tree.” The Montana effort included 18 months of pre-planning, the selection of one subalpine fir from the Sapphire Mountains, more than 6,500 handmade ornaments, 80 companion trees for offices throughout Washington, a 50 member core planning team headed up by U.S. Forest Service staff, 40 business sponsors and a 4,280-mile one-way trip/tour to deliver the tree to Washington, D.C.

Virtually solving the
whole apathy thing

Seeking new ways to reach unregistered voters, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign became the first ever to purchase advertisements inside sports video games, such as popular football title “Madden 09.” The campaign targeted 10 swing states—including Montana—and appeared as billboards inside virtual stadiums, reminding preoccupied gamers that early voting had begun.

They just went back to
playing “Madden 09”

Secretary of State Brad Johnson issued an advisory on Election Day about a possible practical joke. Apparently text messages encouraged some voters to skip long lines at polling places on Nov. 4 and just vote the next day. “In case anyone actually believes these messages,” Johnson assured voters, “Montanans should know: Election Day is today.”

We always liked his raw copy
Former award-winning Indy staffer Jason Wiener made waves among his new colleagues—Missoula’s City Council—when he summarized a series of committee meetings for a local government listserv. The Ward 1 councilman called out conservatives for, among other things, suspiciously changing votes so fast that the minute-taker couldn’t keep track. Councilmen Jon Wilkins and John Hendrickson took exception with how they were portrayed in Wiener’s report. “If you’re going to write about me, be accurate, please,” Wilkins said.

Vote what you, uh, believe?
John Driscoll, the Democratic nominee to unseat U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, promised to vote for his opponent if Rehberg maintained his opposition to the $700 billion bailout bill. When Rehberg voted “No” a second time, Driscoll said he would keep his word. “If I’m still living by Nov. 4 and my wife hasn’t killed me yet,” he told the Indy, “then I will vote for Rehberg.” 

Makes you wonder what
Carrie Underwood got

University of Montana officials promised to raise $75,000 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation to help lure the pop star back to campus for an April 11 concert. After critics decried the expensive promise to an out-of-state charity, UM arranged for $20,000 of the donation to go to the Missoula AIDS Council.

Montana’s equivalent of
a political sex scandal

After rumors circulated that he did not eat meat, Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown was forced to publicly clear the air. “I am not and have never been a vegetarian,” said Brown. “I am disgusted by the baseless allegation that I am a vegetarian and that my personal eating habits should somehow be construed as opposed to the economic interests of Montana’s livestock industry.”

Or, you know, brushing your teeth

During a speech at the University of Montana about the history of rap and hip hop, Public Enemy’s Chuck D added this nugget of advice to Gen Y as they prepared to vote in their first presidential election: “For an adult, voting is as important as washing your ass in the morning.”

They scraped the cream filling
off the tracks first

A cargo train derailed 21 miles west of Havre on July 5, scattering non-hazardous material, including Oreo cookies, all over the railroad. Fifty mile-per-hour winds were blamed for the derailment, in which segmented flatcars equal to about 25 normal rail cars toppled.

He sure has a way with the ladies
U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Kelleher ran two radio advertisements that raised the ire of some Montana women. In one, the Republican candidate claimed “the major cause of breast cancer in all ages is abortion in younger women.” In another, he stated, “America’s toxic culture begins with the teenaged girl’s humiliation when a boy demands she perform fellatio. The real satanic clincher is teenaged abortion.” The state GOP disavowed Kelleher’s candidacy.

At least the number for the fire department was handy
Two kids igniting pages of a phonebook with a lighter accidentally set Mount Sentinel ablaze in July. The fire ended up burning 390 acres on the western slope.

If you can’t beat them, don’t
let them play the game

The Montana Republican Party challenged the voter registration of more than 6,000 Montanans less than one month before Election Day. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy called the desperate move “political chicanery” and Jake Eaton, the GOP operative who authored the challenge, quickly resigned “to pursue other interests.”

Well, Jake Eaton wasn’t available
Some observers were surprised when Republican presidential nominee John McCain tapped former Sen. Conrad Burns to be his campaign’s Montana chairman. McCain spent years making fun of pork barrel projects in his stump speech, including grizzly bear research that takes place in Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. Burns secured more than $1 million for the project in 2003 and 2006.

Better late than never
State Sen. Rick Laible, chair of Montana’s Fire Suppression Interim Committee, organized an agenda for a public meeting in Hamilton that included scheduled speakers from the Big Sky Coalition, a controversial group that advocates, among other things, “large, landscape-scale” logging projects. Only after seven hours of the hearing and a scolding from a local watchdog during the public comment period did Laible disclose that he sits on Big Sky’s board of directors. “I, uh, was gonna do that today, as well,” uttered Laible.

Bureaucracy trumps capitalism
UM assistant professor Kyle Volk brokered a deal with local restaurant El Diablo to sponsor his fall history class, “The Americas: Conquest to Capitalism.” Volk hoped the money would help offset department funding shortfalls, but UM officials quickly stepped in and said the sponsorship was against school policy. 

A simple offering from our
humble state, part three

Among the 16 professional artists who contributed to the Capitol Christmas Tree effort, singer Jack Gladstone penned an original song, “The Heart of Montana.” When he sang the ballad at the tree cutting ceremony, a conservationist told the Ravalli Republic, “I saw some tears in people’s eyes when Jack Gladstone was singing. It’s really neat, because they’ve got compassion for the trees.”

“O, Fiddlesticks” just doesn’t have the same ring to it
Republican Doug Mood, who lost his bid for re-election to the Public Service Commission, posted a thank you to supporters on his personal campaign website above a graphic reading “O SHIT!” and an electoral map showing Obama’s victory.

Neither does “bill of goods”

Terry Reed, a 38-year-old Whitehall man who believed Obama’s campaign message was “a load of crap,” parked a trailer full of manure in front of his town’s Democratic campaign office three days before Election Day. He explained to the Associated Press: “I think Obama’s campaign message is one big old poop sandwich and we’re all going to have to take a bite.”

Depends on how bad
you’ve got the munchies

Stoner icon and University of Pennsylvania professor Kal Penn visited Missoula twice to help organize canvassing efforts for Barack Obama. When asked how his volunteer work for the campaign stacked up to his other experiences, the 31-year-old star of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle said, “Volunteering for Senator Obama and helping him in the race to the White House is much more exciting than any late-night run for sliders.”

Beware the Bitterroot’s
notorious criminals

A San Francisco police officer took three days to drive Mayor Gavin Newsom’s $58,000 hybrid Chevy Tahoe to the mayor’s July 26 wedding in Hamilton. Newsom flew into the Bitterroot for the ceremony in a private jet, but he requested his personal ride because local rentals reportedly lacked the proper security features.

The next county initiative will make ’shrooms a lower priority
Local fungiphile Larry Evans, founder of the Western Montana Mycology Association, was arrested for failing to follow U.S. Forest Service rules on mushroom picking. While leading a Glacier Institute course on mushroom identification, Evans was caught without his permit and with a basket of uncut morels, and fined $125.  

Coming from a professional jerk
Conservative talk radio host Dave Rye discussed the race for superintendent of public schools on his Northern News Network show in late October. When criticizing candidate Denise Juneau, an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, he said, “I used the phrase, that as much as she’s an educator, she’s a professional Indian, in the same sense that Jesse Jackson is a professional black guy…By the same token, Denise Juneau is a specialist in Indian education.”

Another victory for organic farming 
Alfalfa farmer and local developer Carl Saunders told Missoula County commissioners that wastewater from his proposed 85-lot subdivision would be handled by an on-site sewage system. Saunders explained that he thought the waste would boost the productivity of his crop.

Setting a great example
for Travel Montana?

Rep. Denny Rehberg sent a gift earlier this year to Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, which he called an “Idaho Travel Package.” The bag, according to the Associated Press, included a stuffed sheep, a Village People CD, a book on cross-dressing and a T-shirt that read, “My senator may not be gay, but my governor is butch.” The shirt referred to former Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who was caught in a men’s airport bathroom sex sting, and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Human rights groups criticized Rehberg’s attempt at humor, but the congressman reportedly boasted about the gift. “I spent a bit of time putting the things together,” he told a Capitol Hill newspaper.

Facebook’s next feature
Missoula’s Grace Point Church sponsored a discussion at UM by, a religious nonprofit that confronts society’s growing addiction to porn and masturbation. Among the group’s tactics to help addicts is “X3 Watch,” accountability software that alerts a user’s mother, wife or otherwise designated sponsor if any dirty sites are visited.

Adventures in Homeland Security
Flathead Advocates for Decency, an anti-porn group in Flathead County, completed its initial “threat assessment” in February. The group, which hopes to pressure local businesses and law enforcement to excise obscene material from the valley, identified one video store featuring a back room with adult videos.

A simple offering from our
humble state, part four

Nan Christianson’s final notes on day 30 of the Capitol Christmas Tree’s long journey prompted a flurry of “kudos” and “hip-hip-hooray” e-mails from U.S. Forest Service officials and fans of the tree. After the notes were sent to all recipients of Christianson’s daily e-mails—some 280 media and government contacts—Christianson responded with an apology, adding, “Please DO NOT send notes out to everyone on this list...Best bet is just to delete all these e-mail addresses.”

Sounds like calculus
Elaine Sollie Herman, Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, touted her experience for the position with a metaphor. “I believe the school system consists of two partners that make a marriage,” she said. “One is funding, administration, building and the state and the other is children and parents and taxpayers. They need to be a marriage and work together. I have experience on both sides.”

A much better attempt than
that metaphor

Herman tried to bolster her campaign war chest by raffling off tickets to win her green 1975 El Camino, complete with a V-8 engine and chrome hubcaps. The raffle, however, was deemed illegal.
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