Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Jonathan Weber

A New Chapter for New West

It's now been almost five years since we launched NewWest.Net, and I'm both happy and sad to announce today some important changes at the company. Late last year, I was engaged in a conversation by a group of people who are creating a major new non-profit news organization for the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a very interesting venture, and they have recruited me to be the editor in chief of the project. The news about all this is being released today, and I expect you will read more about it in the future. Personally, while I am very excited about the new venture, I am also very sad to be leaving Missoula and New West. At the same time, I am very pleased to report that New West is well-positioned to continue bringing you a unique take on Western news, robust conferences, and the community conversation that you have all come to expect. I'm especially happy to announce that we have hired a new publisher, Lynn Ingham.

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Hickenlooper to Run for Colorado Governor

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, an enormously popular Democrat, will run for governor of Colorado following incumbent Bill Ritter's decision not to seek re-election. Hickenlooper, a one-time petroleum geologist and successful restaurant and real estate entrepreneur, will likely face former Republican congressman Scott McIniss in the general election this fall. Hickenlooper is scheduled to make a formal announcement his afternoon, according to the Denver Post. Hickenlooper has emerged as a classic new-generation Western Democrat since winning the mayoral election in an upset in 2003. He was urged to run for governor three years ago but declined on the grounds that he had barely gotten started in Denver. Hickenlooper was considered by far the strongest potential Democratic candidate after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last week that he would stay in Washington rather than seek the top office in his home state. President Obama even called Hickenlooper to urge him to run.

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Blixseth’s Son Leads New Lawsuit Against Credit Suisse

The son of Yellowstone Club developer and former owner Tim Blixseth is taking a lead role in a new lawsuit against investment bank Credit Suisse, accusing the financial giant of deliberately engineering the failure of at least four major resort projects so that it could acquire them on the cheap. Beau Blixseth, the son of Tim Blixseth and a Yellowstone Club property owner, and L. J. Gibson, an individual who bought property at Tamarack Resort in Idaho, Lake Las Vegas in Nevada, and Gin Sur Mer in the Bahamas, are the initial plaintiffs in the proposed class-action lawsuit, which was filed Sunday in Federal District Court in Idaho. The suit alleges a host of illegal acts by Credit Suisse and the real estate firm Chushman & Wakefield, including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), fraud, negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, and seeks $24 billion in damages.

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Doctor-Assisted Suicide Legal in Montana, Court Rules

Montana on Thursday became the third state to legalize doctor-assisted suicide when the state Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the state constitution prevented patients from seeking help in ending their lives. A lower court judge in Helena surprised many in the state a year ago when she ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to die, and the Supreme Court upheld her ruling Thursday. The case was filed on behalf Robert Baxter of Billings and four physicians. Baxter died of cancer last year. The 4-3 ruling was a narrow one and likely sets the stage for a further battle over the issue in the state legislature. Oregon and Washington are currently the only two states where assisted suicide is legal. Check out the full Associated Press story here. Kirk Johnson of the New York Times has a fine analysis here.

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Good News and Bad News for Northern Rockies High-Tech

The technology business in the Northern Rockies has always been a bit of a hodge-podge: a big company here, a big subsidiary of a big company there, and a few small hives of entrepreneurship that have a lot of potential, but with the possible exception of Idaho's Treasure Valley don't yet have a major impact on the regional economy. Boise is clearly the most important high-tech center in Northern Rockies, and it got a little bit of good news this week. Micron, the computer-chip manufacturer, finally turned a profit after three years in the red, and Hewlett-Packard's huge Boise-based printing division seems to be doing better. There may not be a lot of job growth on the horizon, but at least job losses should stop for a while. In Montana, the big high-tech news of the day is that Semitool, a large maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, was officially taken over by industry leader Applied Materials

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Mountain Lion Snatches Dog, Still on the Prowl in Bitterroot

The Missoulian reported today that a mountain lion snatched a dog off a porch in the Bear Creek area of the Bitterroot, and chased a horse to death in the same area. A neighbor tried to track the lion with dogs, but then someone shot the dogs. A strange story, I'm sure we'll hear more about it soon.

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Local Group Buys Three Missoula Radio Stations

Bucking a long-standing trend that has seen radio station ownership nationwide consolidate into handful of large chains, a troika of Missoula media entrepreneurs have acquired the Trail 103.3 and two other local radio stations. The stations have been run since 2006 by Salt Lake City-based Simmons Media, but Simmons decided not to renew its operating lease on the stations, and the lease will now expire at the end of this year. The new ownership group includes Kevin Terry, a radio engineer and programmer and the original founder and owner of the stations; Ross Rademacher, former owner of the Maverick Group, a Hamilton-based marketing agency; and Becky Smith, a long-time Missoula media operator with experience in radio, print and online. In addition, Dave Cowan, who was responsible for creating the hugely successful programming format for the Trail, has returned to the station group as director of programming.

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Economic Recovery Lags in Mountain West

The Mountain West has been hit harder than the rest of the country by the Great Recession, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution, though the data is heavily skewed by the terrible performance of three major metro areas: Phoenix, Las Vegas and Boise. The new "Mountain Monitor," a companion product to Brookings’ national MetroMonitor and created as part of a partnership between Brookings and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, looks at the economy in six states: Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. "Across the region, the deflation of a massive housing “bubble,” widespread job losses, and the onset of a significant public-sector fiscal crisis have wreaked havoc on many communities," says the report. "In many Intermountain region locations, the sheer abruptness of the shift from hyper-growth early in the decade to a severe contraction in the last year has spawned a sense of almost existential whiplash."

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A Different Kind of Dog Rescue

I was driving to work this morning and there was a bit of a hubbub at the Maclay Bridge - a fire engine and a police car, and three firemen in rescue gear at the edge of the river. I saw a dog on the ice, and my first (scary) thought was that it was waiting by the hole where its owner had fallen through. But no. The dog had simply gotten himself out onto the ice and gotten scared, and refused to move. A fire fighter, secured by a line being held by his colleagues, inched out to save the dog, which of course was scared of him too. I left before the drama was over, but I assume dog and rescuers are fine.

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Moonlight Basin, Lehman Bros. Reach Deal on Financing

Averting what could have been a nasty court fight, Moonlight Basin and Lehman Bros. have reached an agreement on $24 million in interim financing that will keep the bankrupt ski-and-golf resort up and running for at least the next 18 months. Under the agreement, which was finalized following two full days of negotiations Sunday and Monday in Butte and formally approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court court Tuesday morning, Lehman will provide the so-called debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing on very favorable terms, and will be able to oversee budgets and spending at resort. Moonlight had initially proposed $21 million in DIP funding from Trilogy Capital, but that deal carried very steep interest and fees, and perhaps more importantly, it was still subject to due-diligence and probably could not have been done in time to meet Moonlight's immediate cash needs.

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