With this post, WC continues a recurring, semi-regular series: the worst of the worst in state legislatures, focusing initially on the Alaska and Idaho state legislatures. Neither WC nor his readers have high expectations for state legislators, but this series looks at the exceptionally appalling.
Rep. Ron Nate is a Trump supporter who is determined to ride the Critical Race Theory straw man as far as it will carry him. Readers are likely familiar with the CRT bogieman and the associated claims that schools are indoctrinating and even brainwashing America’s youth. It’s a dog whistle for denial of America’s institutionalized racism.
Rep. Nate was one of the leaders in the effort to penalize Idaho’s universities for allegedly teaching CRT by reducing their budget by $2.5 million. The idea didn’t originate with Rep. Nate; it’s a theory propounded by something called the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), a dark money, arch-conservative “think tank” that’s kind of the genital warts of Idaho politics.1 IFF sponsored a white (heh) paper by Boise State Professor Scott Yenor and IFF analyst Anna Miller. Readers will remember Prof. Scott Yenor, who recently had his 15 minutes of internet infamy for his appalling misogyny. Ms. Miller seems to be a hack for IFF. It was Yenor’s and Miller’s paper that was the basis for Rep. Nate’s claims and the arbitrary budget cut.
University of Idaho President Scott Green late last month appeared before the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in support of his University’s budget. Rep. Nate attempted to aggressively cross-examine President Green over the existence of CRT at the University of Idaho.2 What Rep. Nate demonstrated instead is how the Dunning-Kruger Effect applies to politicians: Rep. Nate was repeatedly embarrassed in his efforts, without ever realizing he was taking a beating. In the end, Rep. Nate was like a battered boxer, who has lost his match, but appears before reporters, battered and bleeding, and claims, “He never touched me.”
Rep. Nate asked, “Last year, we reduced the increase in university and college budgets by $2.5 million, with clear intent language to eliminate wasteful spending on diversity, equity and social justice programming. What specific steps has the University of Idaho taken to follow that intent language? I think $500,000 of it was directly for the University of Idaho.”
President Green, in response:
I was confident there was no indoctrination or affirmation program at the University of Idaho. And while I was confident of that, certain conflict entrepreneurs and those who earn their living by scaring people with such illusions have made these claims, which surfaced and were used to cut our budget last year.
We wanted to be sure, and ensure, that we were following Idaho law in deed and in spirit. So we commissioned the law firm of Hawley Troxell to conduct an a independent investigation into the allegations that were surfaced here in the Legislature, primarily through a document published by the affiliate of the Idaho Freedom Foundation titled ‘Social Justice in Idaho Higher Education,’ authored by Boise State Professor Scott Yenor and IFF analyst Anna Miller. We asked Hawley Troxell, arguably the gold standard for law firms in Idaho, to evaluate, substantiate if possible the claims made in the report, and provide recommended adjustments to our processes to correct anything that was substantiated.
President Green made the Hawley Troxell report public.3 The lawyers were unable to substantiate any of Yenor and Miller’s claims, innuendo or accusations. None. They were unable to find a single student, faculty member or staff person who felt pressured or indoctrinated. Hawley and Troxell pointed out that some diversity, equity and inclusion efforts were required for the University and its individual programs to maintain national accreditation. The phrase used by Hawley Troxell to describe the accusers was “conflict entrepreneurs and those who earn their living by scaring people.”
You’d think that kind of embarrassing and unequivocal result would make Rep. Nate stop. Nope.
Rep. Nate plowed on, “But what about the Engineering Department, it has a director of engineering diversity”? President Green’s response:
Yes. It does. The investigation did substantiate that an endowment exists for that position. According to witnesses, the endowment was established by Micron, one of Idaho’s largest employers, and was granted by Micron with the express condition that it be used to promote those initiatives. Micron appears to be of the opinion that these initiatives and skills are essential to its workers, many of whom it recruits from the University of Idaho’s College of Engineering.
President Green concluded by saying that his grandfather “taught me to respectfully speak truth to power.” Rep. Nate, caught punishing a university for a lie, for something it hadn’t done, apparently could find nothing more to say.
For his unrelenting, humiliating and persistent efforts at flogging the dead horse of critical race theory, Re. Ron Nate gets included in the Worst of the Worst among state legislators.
1 WC apologizes to Human Papilloma Viruses everywhere for the metaphor. But the IFF is embarrassing, dangerous and mysterious, a grave problem for any democracy, but no one wants to talk about it.
2 It’s tempting to characterize it as an attempted debate, with President Green having “a battle of wits with an unarmed person.” (Mark Twain, of course.) But the matter is a too serious to dismiss with an aphorism, however accurate.
3 It’s a fine report, but WC suggest proofreading an expensive report, however well researched, before delivering it the client.