Guns on campus and the “Add the Words” initiative dominated conversation during the most recent “Politics for Lunch” forum, hosted by the Andrus Center for Public Policy.
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Idaho Republican Senator Kurt McKenzie, winded after dashing from the Idaho State Capitol and down the eponymous Capitol Blvd., arrived late to speak at the Tuesday, March 25 lunch hour forum, hosted at Boise State University’s downtown campus.
“I’m still a little bit out of breath,” offered the Nampa senator after a brief introduction from Andrus Center director David Adler.
While audience members lunched on cold cuts, McKenzie launched into his current slate of legislative projects — starting with the most “interesting and controversial,” as he put it — including the fate of the “Add the Words” effort, a political movement to extend the protections of Idaho’s Human Rights Act to LGBT citizens, and a “campus carry” measure, Senate Bill 1254, sponsored by McKenzie and on its way to consideration in the House, which would give licensed Idaho citizens greater latitude to carry firearms on Idaho’s college campuses — a proposal approved by the state Senate last week, despite opposition from all eight of Idaho’s public college and university presidents.
On the former, the Idaho State Capitol has been the scene of numerous arrests during “Add the Words” political demonstrations, involving Idaho State Police, former Boise Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour and dozens of other supporters. More than 100 activists returned to the Capitol Feb. 25 to call attention to gay and lesbian teens who have taken their own lives after being bullied at school. McKenzie, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, echoed majority party leadership in suggesting this session will not entertain an “Add the Words” bill — but suggested his committee may take up the issue next year.
“On this particular issue, I anticipate that I’m going to have a hearing on it next session,” said McKenzie. “I don’t know what the vote is going to be in committee. I think they may surprise you, with support on that. I don’t know what the floor will do, or what the House will do, but I anticipate we will hear it, and the committee will do whatever it’s going to do on that.”
The Andrus Center for Public Policy’s next “Politics for Lunch” will feature Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
Tuesday, March 11 at Boise State University’s downtown campus, 301 S. Capitol Blvd.
Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and speakers begin at noon. For more information, visit the Andrus Center’s website.
On the guns-on-campus issue, McKenzie, a Georgetown University Law Center alumnus and owner of the Boise-based McKenzie Law Offices, evoked the U.S. Constitution and recent Supreme Court decisions protecting Second Amendment rights in providing a rationale for allowing certain Idaho citizens to carry firearms on college campuses. McKenzie said similar measures passed in Utah and Colorado have not caused problems in those states.
“I think it’s going to be a tiny portion of the population of campus that actually does this, but there will be some,” said McKenzie. Boise State University’s head of security and police services, according to Boise State Public Radio, suggested McKenzie’s “campus carry” bill would cost the school $2 million each year. “One of the guys I skydive with said to me ‘My two sons just returned from tours in Afghanistan; they were both in the Marines… They have firearms training beyond what any of our law enforcement go through. They’re [College of Western Idaho] students and they can’t carry despite the fact they have enhanced carry permits.’ It just doesn’t seem right to me to have a policy that completely excludes your ability to carry.”
Numerous audience members challenged McKenzie on his stance regarding both “Add the Words” and SB 1254 — McKenzie denied allegations both that he was under pressure by Senate leadership to consider the campus carry bill and that the National Rifle Association had used money to influence legislators.
Toward the end of the Q&A, McKenzie was asked about his personal beliefs regarding “Add the Words.” Specifically, the audience member asked the senator if he supports expanding Human Rights Act protections for gay, lesbian and transgender Idahoans.
“I’m going to rely on [Renaissance lawyer] Thomas More on that one and not answer that until I have to in a vote,” McKenzie said. “If I am in support of it, I don’t know if it helps me with my district, to be honest, and I’m not going to give an advisory opinion on that until we have the vote. And we will have the vote.”
As for SB 1254, a Facebook page titled “Keep Idaho colleges and Universities Safe – No Guns on Campus” has garnered more than 600 followers. The group plans a walkout against the bill Thursday, Feb. 27 at 12:30 p.m.
To hear McKenzie’s remarks during the March 25 “Politics for Lunch,” you can find a podcast of the event via the Andrus Center’s website.
Note: Both The Blue Review and the Andrus Center are affiliated with Boise State University, which opposes SB 1254.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.