This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.Opinion > Column
Shawn Vestal: Troll politics applauded in Coeur d’Alene even as it imperils NIC
Wed., Feb. 15, 2023
The celebration of troll politics took place a few hundred yards down the lakeshore from the consequences of troll politics.
One was absurd, one tragic.
The folks who brought Marjorie Taylor Greene to the Lake City in her Cruella dress for a feast of lies and selfies at the Coeur d’Alene Resort are the same folks who have put the future of North Idaho College at serious risk. Both are productions of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, troll-central in the network of radical flummery that is destroying the college.
This is no hyperbole. Last week, NIC was given a final warning by accreditors to get its ship in order, an almost unheard-of step that reflects the egregious mismanagement of the board’s KCRCC-backed majority. The college has been treated like a lib to own while denying there was any threat to accreditation.
“Fake news,” is what current board president Greg McKenzie called concerns about accreditation in a letter to constituents in November. (Kaye Thornbrugh of The Coeur d’Alene Press was first to report these comments.)
“Accreditation has never been ‘at risk,’” McKenzie asserted.
KCRCC poo-bah Brent Regan peddled a similar line: “All that rhetoric was crazy. None of that’s going to happen.”
Art Macomber, the attorney hired by the board with no public process and with a steep pay raise, described the concerns in a letter to The Coeur d’Alene Press as “scare tactic complaints” that would fade away after the election “like a bad dream.”
Last week, a couple of days before Greene-a-Palooza, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities begged to differ. After repeatedly warning the board to follow the basic rules of governance, the commission sent its final warning: A “show-cause” order, demanding the college demonstrate why it should not be stripped of its accreditation.
In its order, the commission wrote that it was “Convinced that the NIC Board of Trustees has not shown sufficient responsiveness to previous Commission action and, thus, fails to sufficiently appreciate the jeopardy it is placing the institution in with respect to the welfare and viability of the institution.”
Such orders are as rare as elected Democrats in Kootenai County. The commission has sent three show-cause letters to mainland institutions of higher learning since 2016, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is the last warning before the school loses accreditation, which would be a death sentence.
As interim President Greg South put it in a message to campus, “there are no additional chances.”
This disaster is every bit as much a production of the KCRCC and troll politics as the Lincoln Day dinner – where the troll king of North Idaho, Regan, brought the troll queen of North America to town to say dumb things about the Chinese spy balloon and Hunter Biden, and a ballroom full of Idaho conservatives greeted her like she was Princess Di.
“I am just like every single one of you,” the Georgia representative told them.
Let’s hope not. But her hosts have followed the troll playbook every bit as closely as she has, and demonstrated just as much competence. The far-right takeover of Idaho politics has been fueled by culture war fury, MAGA bloviation, anti-vaxxer insanity, Christian nationalism and rolling out a big, soft welcome mat for bigots. It lives, politically, on a diet of confidently stated falsehoods and its chief purpose seems to be annoying and angering the enemy.
This is all very entertaining for trolls, apparently. A real good time. A kind of social media play-acting for disaffected outsiders. Mock adulthood for under-informed juveniles.
But when it gets real – when the trolls come out from under the bridge and into actual authority – they discover the goat is much bigger than they thought. Being loudly overconfident is no longer enough.
The ineptitude of the recent NIC board majorities has been extensively documented. A band of belligerent uber-conservatives has trampled every norm and rule, driven out two presidents, tried to put the wrestling coach in charge, hired a crony lawyer for exorbitant pay, ignored public meeting laws and contracting rules, bullied and insulted everyone in sight …
The scope and depth of the problems, dating back almost three years, defy summary. The commission tried to round up the most recent lowlights in its letter: two ongoing lawsuits, including one from the president the board put on leave; frequent changes in leadership without input from stakeholders or following college policies; declining enrollments; an “exodus” of faculty and staff; and no-confidence resolutions from students, faculty and staff.
The show-cause order puts NIC on a short leash, even in the best case. To escape with its accreditation, the school must demonstrate serious, good-faith efforts to fix the problems and will have to obediently jump through hoops for the foreseeable future.
Can the board do that? Can they stop trolling and govern?
Or will they keep hollering ‘Fake News’ until the college they’re killing finally dies?