State Politics

Cartoon postcards mailed to Idaho lawmakers mock BSU president, diversity initiatives

Boise State students respond as diversity and inclusion programs are scrutinized by some Idaho lawmakers

Boise State students Ryann Banks, Kaleb Smith and alumna Tai Simpson respond to a letter signed by a group of Idaho lawmakers who are critical of BSU's diversity and inclusion programs.
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Boise State students Ryann Banks, Kaleb Smith and alumna Tai Simpson respond to a letter signed by a group of Idaho lawmakers who are critical of BSU's diversity and inclusion programs.

An unknown number of Idaho lawmakers and state officials received postcards in the mail Monday morning that mock Boise State President Marlene Tromp, state education officials and the university’s diversity initiatives.

Gov. Brad Little has yet to respond to legislators’ calls for a response.

The cards, which have Spokane postmarks, include cartoons depicting Tromp and members of the Idaho State Board of Education as clowns, covered with the statements “BSU & Idaho Ed. Clown World” and “Idaho Taxpayer Ticket Price: $425,000 and sacrificial children.”

Boise Democrats Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Sen. Maryanne Jordan told the Idaho Statesman that they received the postcards Monday morning. At least 10 Republican lawmakers got a postcard, according to Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.

Buckner-Webb said she was angered by the postcard, calling it “derisive” and “divisive.”

“More than that, it was very incendiary, that kind of language,” Buckner-Webb said. “I would say it was childlike, if it wasn’t so incendiary. That kind of rhetoric can inflame communities.”

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Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, (D-Boise), received this postcard Monday morning depicting Idaho education officials and Boise State president Marlene Tromp. Courtesy of Cherie Buckner-Webb

Boise State’s diversity and initiative programs have been targeted for more than a week. The controversy began when 28 Idaho Republicans signed a letter asking Tromp to roll back such university programs.

The letter, penned by Ehardt, included detailed criticisms of a wide breadth of programs for minority students, including scholarships for DACA students, graduation ceremonies for LGBTQ and black students, and other initiatives.

Some of those programs were also referenced in the postcards.

“Idaho State Board of Education invites Clown World to Idaho in the personage of new BSU President Marlene Tromp,” the back of the postcard reads. “Clown World features scholarships for illegal aliens. Alt-gender cult center for LGBTQ creep clowns. A gaggle of diversity clowns to gobble up fat paychecks while violating Idaho students. Pronoun scramble on the rainbow stage.”

The postcard also mentions and includes depictions of Idaho State Board of Education members Linda Clark, Don Soltman, Emma Atchley, Andrew Scoggin, Debbie Critchfield and David Hill, as well as Idaho State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

Ehardt told the Statesman on Monday she did not condone the postcard, which she also received.

“Neither I nor my colleagues condone language that disparages or belittles another person or prevents constructive dialogue from proceeding,” Ehardt said. “Luckily, there has been civility between lawmakers, and I only expect that to continue. All lawmakers should welcome conversations that sincere in seeking answers to concerns that we have.”

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, echoed Ehardt, saying that even though he felt the issues raised by his colleagues were valid, he did not condone these tactics.

“I think that civility and sitting down and reasoning through things together provides much better results than belittling and putting someone down,” Hill said. “I’m not judging the merits of the issues themselves, but the tactics are what I’m concerned about.”

Hill, who did not sign Ehardt’s original letter, said there were no “threats” to defund Boise State’s diversity programs, but the school could expect questions about them from legislators.

“I just hear concerns and a hope that maybe we can sit down and resolve some of these things rather than unilaterally from the university, or from one or two people in the administration there,” Hill said.

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield called the postcard a distraction and a “waste of time.”

“I wish that as much time and energy as went in to the creation and distribution of the postcard was used to actually learn the facts. The errors should be evident from first glance, considering we are an eight-member board,” Critchfield wrote. “Furthermore, how ridiculous to criticize President Tromp, who has worked in our state for a sum total of 22 days.”

Kris Rodine, spokeswoman for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, declined to comment.

Through Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn, Tromp reiterated her belief that Idaho could have a “meaningful dialogue” about these issues.

“She has already begun speaking to the legislators who voiced their concerns with diversity and inclusion programming at Boise State and elsewhere, and is committed to keeping that conversation moving forward,” Hahn told the Statesman. “We believe that open, honest and compassionate dialogue is the best way to address important issues.”

Buckner-Webb and Jordan said they were taking the postcards seriously — especially since they received similar postcards from the same group about a month ago. Both said the previous postcards, also postmarked from Spokane, mocked Islam and Muslims. Jordan said she was so disturbed, she sent that postcard to the Idaho State Police and requested an investigation.

ISP spokesman Tim Marsano confirmed the agency received the previous postcard from Jordan and was in the process of evaluating it.

“I just think this just points out the need for protections for minorities and for the LGBT community in the state of Idaho, because this is the stuff that is out there,” Jordan said. “Some people may think this is a joke, but it’s not. It’s threatening and ugly and it needs to stop.”

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Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb said she was angered by the postcard, calling it “derisive” and “divisive.” Courtesy of Cherie Buckner-Webb

The website listed at the bottom of the postcard, infocomms.org, bills itself as the “Infowars Army,” a “peaceful, lawful and legal citizen activism operation.” The Statesman found posts featuring the BSU cartoon and the postcard mocking Muslims on the website. Based on forum posts dated to the first week of July, the BSU cartoon and postcard was apparently created after Tromp was selected as BSU’s new president and before Ehardt wrote her letter.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation published a column June 14 addressing the same points outlined in Ehardt’s letter, saying BSU had “joined the legion of left-leaning institutions that are using their campuses as state-sponsored platforms for intolerance, division and victimhood.”

“We had no knowledge of these postcards and were not consulted about them,” IFF spokesman Dustin Hurst told the Idaho Statesman on Monday. “They are nothing more than a distraction and should be viewed as such. We should focus on the real issue here, which is BSU’s radical direction that is antithetical to the Idaho way.”

Buckner-Webb said she also reached out to Little this morning, asking if he could make a call for civility among lawmakers.

Spokeswoman Marissa Morrison told the Statesman in an email Little was traveling Monday and the staff “has not had the opportunity to discuss the matter with him.”

“I just think we have to hold ourselves accountable and responsible for what we do, and think of the impact it has on not only one group, but on all of us,” Buckner-Webb said. “We need to be clear. Leadership needs to lead by example and not by lip service.”

This article has been corrected to reflect Rep. Megan Blanksma is from Hammett.

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Investigative reporter Nicole Foy covers Latinos, agriculture and government accountability issues. She graduated from Biola University and previously worked for the Idaho Press and the Orange County Register. Her Hispanic affairs beat reporting won first place in the 2018 Associated Press regional awards. Ella habla español.
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