Of Idaho legislators, an attempted coup and charter schools

Over the course of 2011, 13 Idaho legislators toured Turkey.

The lawmakers had to pay their own way halfway across the globe, but once they got to Turkey, their hotels, meals and travels were bankrolled by the Pacifica Institute, a group of Turkish-Americans. The group said its mission was “to develop social capital — the creation and extension of positive connections within and between disparate social networks.”

Brent Hill
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg

During the trip, the lawmakers toured Turkish schools and universities. Senate President Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said the tour provided lawmakers a chance to meet with political, education and business leaders.

Why are those trips of interest, five years after the fact? The Pacifica Institute is aligned with Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. And Gulen figures prominently in the fallout from Friday’s failed military coup in Turkey — although Gulen’s role in the coup is open to debate. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Gulen with orchestrating the attempted coup. Gulen has denied any involvement, and has accused Erdogan of staging the coup, NBC News reported Monday.

Also of note, in any discussion of Gulen and K-12 policy, is his role in the charter schools movement. As the Washington Post reported Saturday, Gulen has ties to 160 charter schools across the nation — which would constitute one of the nation’s largest charter school networks.

I wrote about the legislators’ trips to Turkey at the time, in my former life as an Idaho Statesman editorial writer and columnist. I hadn’t given those columns much thought until the weekend, when a fellow reporter reminded me of the Idaho-Gulen connection.

So, which legislators took the Pacifica Institute up on its invite?

The list includes five current legislators, in addition to Hill: outgoing Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, now a candidate for state Supreme Court; Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls; Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum; Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston; and outgoing Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding.

The list also includes seven former lawmakers: Sens. John McGee, R-Caldwell, Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston; John Tippetts, R-Montpelier, Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; and Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; and Reps. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; and Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot.