Bob Kustra says he’s often asked about running for public office.
Don’t count on it. Not in Idaho, anyway, he recently told Idaho EdNews.
Yet Kustra still speaks out politically, and openly. The former Boise State University president and former lieutenant governor of Illinois hosts a weekly Boise State Public Radio show featuring an eclectic mix of influential authors. And he writes “whatever I want to” as a columnist for the Idaho Statesman.
Still, he views himself as a political misfit in the Gem State, following nearly two decades in the trenches of Illinois politics before landing at Boise State in 2003.
“I wouldn’t waste my time trying to run as a Republican here because I couldn’t get elected in a Republican primary these days,” said Kustra, who laments the GOP’s rightward shift surrounding Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential ascent.
Kustra, who secured seats as a Republican in the Illinois General Assembly from 1981 to 1991 and as the state’s lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1998, begrudgingly refers to the Republican party’s prominent right-wing faction as “crazies” and “Trumpers.”
And as his op-eds and Twitter feed make brazenly clear, he’s no fan of Trump, calling the former president “The Most Dangerous Man in America” in a tweet earlier this year and telling EdNews that Trump “bastardized” the nation’s political discourse.
Writing about whatever Kustra wants to often turns into airing out his issues with the former president and far-right conservatism — another reason he enjoys cobbling op-eds.
“When you’re a university president, you can’t say what I say in my columns,” he said.
Kustra’s disdain for the party’s rightward shift carries over into Idaho politics, and what he views as “handing off state government to the far right.”
He sees it in a Idaho House of Representatives that “wants to take even more money from education,” Kustra wrote in a recent Statesman op-ed.
Jeopardizing K-12 funds has been part of the conservative playbook in Idaho. Last legislative session, a bloc of right-wing legislators led efforts to kill the state’s K-12 teacher salaries budget after accusations that educators are being forced to include critical race theory in their coursework.
And conservative pushback over critical race theory hasn’t stopped at school funding. In April, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin formed an education indoctrination task force to protect “young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism” in Idaho’s schools. The group floated half a dozen recommendations to the Legislature last month that ranged from targeting critical race theory to further endorsing school choice — another issue Kustra balks at.
For him, the state’s continued embrace of charter schools is indicative of an overly conservative Statehouse. “They trash public education at all levels, believing that only charter schools will protect their children from the ‘heresies’ taught in our public schools,” Kustra recently wrote in reference to an “angry” right-wing faction of the party.
And too much focus on race “in mostly white Idaho” is a problem for Kustra, who said it’s not as if the state’s students “will live in an all-white world for the rest of their lives.”
Kustra lays much of the blame for the rightward shift in Idaho on the state’s top political leaders. Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke hasn’t done enough to keep far-right candidates at bay in recent years, said Kustra, who pointed to his time in Illinois, where more Republicans who saw a “loose cannon” preparing to run would find and support moderate candidates to run against them.
And while Kustra praised Gov. Brad Little’s history of public service, the situation has allowed the Legislature to “cave in” on him in recent years.
If Little runs for reelection, both he and Bedke, who is running for lieutenant governor, will face challenges from the right in the May 2022 GOP Primary — notably, from Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Rep. Priscilla Giddings. Click here for more.
Especially irritating to Kustra is what he sees as the dishevelment of political discourse, both nationally and in Idaho. He pointed to President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Boise, where crowds of people chanted obscenities upon the President’s arrival and waved flags bearing F-bombs.
“That’s not the Boise I know,” Kustra said. “That’s not the Idaho I know.”