Billy Carter is back. And this time, he’s the one in office.
OK, it’s not the deceased brother of the former president. But a beer-swilling Kootenai County Solid Waste Department employee of the same name is the new mayor of Fighting Creek, the unincorporated town where votes are cast one brew at a time.
“It’s easy to remember,” Carter said of his name, in between sips. Both Billys are known for “drinking beer and having a good time.”
Anyone, from anywhere, can vote as many times as he wants; he just has to buy a beer at the Fightin’ Creek Store and Tavern each time. For the 1996 race, 3,000 votes went down in suds.
“A lot of people come here,” the new mayor said, basking in the bar’s just-tallied approval Tuesday. “It’s all legitimate.”
The transition of power took place without six-shooters. Outgoing Mayor Tom Goldhorn, wearing a big black cowboy hat and a red handkerchief around his neck, said Carter may even be the best mayor yet.
“He’s the most-qualified mayor who’s ever been here,” Goldhorn said, referring to Carter’s solid-waste expertise. That’s because the chief mayoral task is cleaning the Chamber of Commerce, otherwise known as the latrine.
In return, Carter gets a pewter mayoral mug to keep for life.
Carter’s campaign promises were lofty - namely, installing solar-powered fans in the Chamber. A ventilation system that sucks out methane also could be part of the ambitious program.
“It’s going to be a high-tech outhouse,” Carter promised.
Sure, it could happen. But after an election, Fighting Creek campaign promises seem to evaporate faster than Pabst Blue Ribbon on the Fourth of July.
Goldhorn, too, planned to ventilate the Chamber, but electricity cost too much (hence, Carter’s solar solution).
Dick Wandrocke, elected mayor in ‘91, wanted to lower the drinking age to 18.
“You can get married, die for your country, you can vote, but you can’t have a cold beer,” Wandrocke lamented. He also wanted the retirement years to be 18 through 65. “Doctors tell you to work when you’re older,” he reasoned.
Wacky? “It’s progressive,” the former mayor said.
A woman also has been mayor, as was someone who lived in California during his term.
Anyone can win, living or dead.
This year, Carter’s 966 votes beat out write-ins for Darth Vader, Madonna, Saddam Hussein and the collective lineup of Pink Floyd.
But those candidates just wouldn’t belong. The Fightin’ Creek Store and Tavern has everything to do with the Wild West and nothing to do with pop culture.
It used to be a stagecoach depot. The outside is all worn pillared porch, something out of “The Unforgiven.” The inside is decorated with sketches of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Antlers and Indian headdresses adorn the walls, as do dozens of signed dollar bills.
Some of the denizens look pretty 1850s, too. A grizzled beard, miner’s hat and old jeans go a long way.
The place’s new owners stand out. Ivo and Janell Chmelar look pretty yuppy in comparison.
They bought the landmark tavern only seven weeks ago. Ivo hails originally from the former Czechoslovakia.
“When you grow up in one of those Eastern European countries, all you really want to be is a cowboy,” Janell said. “So this is perfect for him.”
The couple knew of the Fightin’ Creek lore before they bought it, but didn’t realize just what a sacred trust they would be charged with.
“We were surprised at how seriously everyone took it,” Janell said of the tavern-turned-polling place. “It’s like everyone owns it, you’re kind of just here.”
“They fill you in and let you know what you should do,” said Ivo in his tell-tale accent.
So what’s the word from the mayor?
“We’re bringing back Billy Beer.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo