A public dispute between a congressman and a university president is always newsworthy.
But the sniping between Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise State University President Bob Kustra carries some added political intrigue, heading into the 2018 elections.
Things started late Tuesday, after Labrador released a public statement on the fatal protests in Charlottesville, Va. The statement read, in part, “I detest white supremacy as much as I detest black nationalism and other forms of identity politics. As a public servant, as a man of faith and as an American I abhor and condemn the violence, racism and bigotry we saw in Charlottesville.”
A day later, in his annual state of the university address, Kustra unveiled a new human rights initiative named for Marilyn Shuler, a longtime Boise human rights activist who died in February. He also took a jab at Labrador’s reference to black nationalism.
“It’s like, ‘let me Google that.’ When you Google ‘black nationalism’ it takes you back to the 1960s and ’70s. (That’s) a movement that I won’t go into, but the fact is (black nationalism) has nothing to do with what happened last weekend.”
(More from Kustra’s address from the Idaho Statesman.)
Now, back to Labrador. On Nate Shelman’s afternoon talk show on Boise’s KBOI radio Monday afternoon, he suggested Kustra has worn out his welcome after 14 years at the helm. (Ruth Brown of the Idaho Statesman has the details.)
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“It’s interesting when you have a 60-something white male from a liberal state trying to tell me, a young Hispanic male, how I should react to racism,” Labrador said. “I thought it was very inappropriate what he did. Maybe it’s time for him to go. It’s time for him to decide that it’s somebody else’s turn.”
A quality battle of words, under any circumstances. But especially given the political landscape.
Labrador is running for governor, one of three big-name Republicans looking to succeed the retiring Butch Otter. His comments about the president of the state’s largest university resonate that much more — because, if elected, Labrador will have direct say over higher education budgets. And Labrador’s appointees to the State Board of Education hold considerable sway over higher education policy, and review university presidents’ performance on an annual basis.
It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of this dustup.