The 16 Arizona News Stories That Best Define 2016

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8. Dolphins in the desert: What's the first thing you think of when you think of dolphins? The desert, right? Well maybe if you're Dolphinaris, the Mexico-based entertainment company that decided to build a swim-with-the-dolphins center near Scottsdale. From the moment the story broke, the aquarium was the focus of intense protest. The facility opened in September, but critics vow to continue their fight.

7. Controversial ballot initiatives: From legalizing marijuana (Prop 205) to raising the minimum wage (Prop 206) to a sketchy proposal to fund public education (Prop 123), 2016 could be remembered as the Year of the Proposition. All three issues were hotly debated, and in the case of Prop 205, a whole heck of a lot of money was pumped into the effort, particularly on the anti- side. In the end, Props 123 and 206 passed, while 205 went down to defeat.

6. Accused I-10 shooter exonerated: While few Arizonans will forget how the I-10 serial shooter terrified the public and dominated the news, we'll remember 2016 as the year the Maricopa County Attorney's Office left the courtroom with its figurative tail between its legs after its case against Leslie Merritt Jr., the man they pegged as the shooter, crumbled.

5. Long voting lines: Remember the time hundreds of people in Maricopa County waited for hours to vote because the county had cut the number of polling places in order to save money? Good times! Arizona made national headlines a few times this year, but the presidential-preference voting catastrophe marked one of the more embarrassing occasions. Trump swept the Republican vote and Clinton beat out Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side (though her victory was not without allegations of potential voter suppression).

4. Maryvale serial street shooter:
It's not every day that a serial killer is on the loose in your town, but beginning in March, a man the Phoenix Police Department has dubbed the "Serial Street Shooter" killed seven people and wounded two others in the Maryvale district of Phoenix. As New Times described in an in-depth feature, residents of Maryvale, a predominately Latino area plagued by crime, drugs, and gang-related violence – have been left wondering whether the situation would have garnered more attention if the killer had struck a more affluent and white area. No shooting has been linked to the shooter since mid-July, nor has any suspect been apprehended.

3. There's a new sheriff in town: It was a long, long time coming, but the law finally caught up with America's self-proclaimed Toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. After decades of racist antics that cost Maricopa County taxpayers millions of dollars (and still counting), a federal judge lowered the boom on Arpaio, in the form of a criminal contempt charge. stemming from the landmark civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio. In November, voters placed the cherry on top of the metaphorical Arpaio sundae, when they ended his six-term reign by electing former Phoenix cop Paul Penzone.

2. Ducey's appointment failures: Governor Doug Ducey came into office promising to help Arizona by appointing people with a strong background in business. But as New Times has diligently documented, the plan hasn't exactly worked out. So far, scandals of various sorts have led to the firing or resignation of three appointees: Department of Economic Security Director Tim Jeffries, Arizona-Mexico Commission president David Farca, and Arizona Lottery Director Tony Bouie.

1. High school students spell out the n-word with T-shirts: Few sights were as disturbing this past year as the photograph of six Desert Vista High School seniors spelling out the n-word on lettered shirts that circulated on social media in January and went viral. Quoth New Times' Ray Stern: "Smiling and laughing as they press shoulders together to make the word, the girls seem to be proud of their spelling skills and oblivious to the storm of criticism to come."

As the old Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times." Here's to 2017!
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser