The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, making an argument for our status as a border town. Here's our list of the most memorable moments of the past year.
Best Rescue: GusGus the Goat
Little news in the past 12 months was quite as traumatic as the realization that GusGus, a three-week-old goat, had been stolen from the Arizona State Fair. Like everyone else across the nation, we waited with bated breath for updates, because petting zoo officials warned he was unlikely to survive more than a day or two away from his mother, who, by the way, was reportedly crying out for him — could anything be sadder? Thankfully, after 20 hours of sheer panic and a near-collective societal breakdown, someone found little GusGus wandering near a canal in north Phoenix.
Best Profile in Courage: Jeff Flake's No Fly, No Buy Bill
It takes stones to take on the gun lobby in Arizona, home to a Republican Party that believes the Second Amendment is one of the Ten Commandments. Any restriction, no matter how common-sense, is guaranteed to engender a backlash among gun lovers here, so U.S. Senator Jeff Flake knew exactly what he was doing when he stood in support of a proposed federal law that would stop people on "no-fly" lists from purchasing a weapon. Predictably, the far right pilloried Arizona's junior Republican senator on the issue, and it likely will be remembered by his detractors when he runs for re-election in 2018. Let's hope voters see it for what it is: an act of political courage that put public safety above the demands of a myopic, selfish few.
Best Shit-Show: CBS 5's Jonathan Lowe
Talk about crappy journalism. CBS 5 News reporter Jonathan Lowe was on assignment in that toddlin' town of Goodyear in May, reporting on some dude who killed his family's dog and stuffed the remains in a barbecue smoker, when he felt the irresistible call of his innards and chose to relieve himself on a nearby front yard. A neighbor witnessed Lowe fertilize the lawn in question and head back to the TV van, leaving the evidence of his crime for all to see. To Lowe's surprise, the Goodyear police responded to the neighbor's call, arrested Lowe, and cited him for public defecation. CBS 5 wasted little time in excreting him.
Best Prick: The Pin Incident at the State Capitol
Citizens of Maricopa County and the rest of the state were outraged at the epic failure of the March 23 presidential preference election, during which some voters stood in line for up to five hours. A few days later, protesters descended on the State Capitol. One of them was Jonathan McRae of Paulden. He was targeted for arrest by state Department of Public Safety officers in the gallery viewing area of the Capitol; they claim he was making a disturbance. His Guy Fawkes mask probably didn't help. In a video made of the squabble, McRae can be seen passively resisting officers as they try to arrest him. He was ultimately taken to a Capitol police facility to be searched before being transferred to county jail. And that's when a pin in McRae's shorts pricked one of the troopers. "The safety pin was attached to the subject's shorts and was pointing out so that the sharp needle end was facing outward," a police report reads. The officer had to be treated at a nearby hospital.
Best Back-Stab: Len Sherman's Self-Serving Denunciation of Sheriff Joe
For lo these many years, scribbler Len Sherman has played the part of slobbering sycophant to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, co-authoring the sheriff's two back-patting memoirs, 1996's America's Toughest Sheriff and 2008's Joe's Law, which are chock-full of the kind of cock-and-bull propaganda that's helped to keep Arpaio in power for more than two decades. But with Arpaio wounded — perhaps fatally — by a contempt trial in federal court, Sherman decided it was time for a little historical revisionism, writing in an op-ed earlier this year for the Arizona Republic that the MCSO is "mired" in "corruption" and that his patron's days are "numbered." The image of a sniveling rodent taking a dive off the Titanic comes to mind.
Best Political Pipe Dream: Doug Ducey for President
Delusion is a powerful motivator of men, and never more so than with the flock of advisers and yes-men who lick the loafers of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the former ice-cream magnate who squeezed through a crowded Republican primary in 2014 with a plurality and went on to score a perfunctory win against a hapless Dem in the general. Though the shrubby Ducey, with his helmet hair and robotic mode of speaking, is about as inspiring as a late-night laxative commercial, his retinue of butt-kissers refers to him as "The Natural," cultivating the pipe dream that when Donald Trump loses the White House to Hillary Clinton, a scenario Ducey's peeps are banking on, folks will be ready for a true conservative four years hence, backed by the Koch bothers, to defeat the Democrat dragon lady. Problem is, Ducey has all the charisma of a bowl of cold Cream of Wheat.
Best Political Loon: "Chemtrail Kelli" Ward
Whether it's Evan Mecham in the 1980s claiming to be divinely inspired to be the state's chief executive, or current state Senator Sylvia Allen contending that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, Arizona politics is known for its (mostly far-right) wackos, and this election season, it was Kelli Ward, former state Senator, and primary challenger to U.S. Senator John McCain, who stepped up to the plate. Not only did Ward once host a public forum in her district to address constituents' concerns that they were being poisoned by "chemtrails," she also appeared on Texas conspiracy titan Alex Jones' radio show, where she suggested that the McCain forces might be out to do her physical harm.
Best Republican Tip Sheet: MCRC Briefs by Frosty Taylor
As long as Arizona remains a one-party state or anything close to it, Frosty Taylor's MCRC Briefs, a daily newsletter regarding all things AZ GOP, will remain required reading for politicos, sort of like the Arizona Capitol Times' "Yellow Sheet," 'cept the Briefs ("MCRC" standing for Maricopa County Republican Committee) is as free as the beer at a frat party. For reporters, it's a gold mine of possible stories on the Republican ruling class on one side, grassroots Tea Partiers on the other, and everyone in between.
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Best Traffic Jam: Donald Trump Protest at Fountain Park
Donald Trump's first two visits to Arizona this political season were relatively low-key: Protesters held creative signs and engaged in shouting matches with Trump supporters, but no punches were thrown nor arrests made. But as Trump was planning his third visit, to be held on March 19 in Fountain Hills, violence was breaking out at his rallies across the country, prompting many to wonder if a similar thing would happen here. To be clear, we don't condone violence — which is why we loved the protesters' tactic. Dozens of anti-Trumpers linked arms or chained themselves to vehicles in an effort to block traffic (and the candidate) from getting to the park.
Best Political Stunt: The Satanic Invocation at the Phoenix City Council
It's not every day that a national satanic group sends local politicians into a tizzy by announcing it will deliver a formal invocation at a city-council meeting. Even though the Satanic Temple is less of a devil-worshiping cult than a civic-minded group set on separating church and state, a handful of Phoenix City Council members reacted as though the group was planning to hold some sort of ritual sacrifice on the floor of the council chambers. After dominating the local news cycle for a few weeks, the city finally voted to abolish religious prayer at its meetings, meaning that even though the Satanists could now be prevented from giving the invocation, in the end, they still won the battle — for the time being, anyway.
Best Natural Disaster: November 1 Earthquakes in Black Canyon City
Remember that time three massive earthquakes ripped through central Arizona, tearing down buildings and spreading hysteria in its wake? Yeah, neither do we. But what we do remember was the series of very small earthquakes that gently shook parts of the state on November 1, 2015, causing the occasional dish to rattle or dog to bark, and really only because of the totally outsized and hilarious social-media response it prompted.
Best Exoneration: Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.
We'd like to think the exoneration of Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., the then-21-year-old landscaper accused of terrorizing the city of Phoenix by driving around I-10 and shooting vehicles, was one of the more satisfying things to happen this past year. Merritt was singled out as the culprit based on flawed forensic evidence, and had his life — and the lives of his fiancée and two young children — turned upside down after he was arrested and held on a bail he couldn't afford to pay. The public lashed out at state and county officials for seeming to ignore the whole presumption-of-innocence thing, so when the state's case against Merritt completely fell apart and a judge basically erased Merritt's bond, it felt like a vindication of due process.
Best Hashtag: #DaddySworeAnOath
What do you do when a teary-eyed, feds-hating Arizona militant uploads a video to Facebook in order to teach his kids why he had to take over a wildlife refuge in Oregon to (somehow) help protect their freedoms and the Constitution? Why, you make a hashtag! And thus is the genesis story of #DaddySworeAnOath, possibly one of the best things to come out of the Bundy-family-led takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.