An uproar over a Boise State University professor’s comments about women led to Ada County reconsidering its policy for what groups can meet at the Ada County Courthouse.
Last week, Boise State political science professor Scott Yenor grabbed headlines for comments he made about women’s role in modern society at the National Conservatism Conference in Florida at the end of October. This sparked protests from fellow faculty members, elected officials and other community members who pushed back against his criticism of women holding jobs in engineering and calling universities “citadels of our gynecocracy.”
He was originally scheduled to appear at an event hosted by the ConservativesOf Boise PAC at the Ada County Courthouse this week alongside Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Education Policy Director Anna Miller. But, after critics of Yenor’s inquired about the policies for using the room Ada County opted to cancel the event and rewrite its policy on what groups will be allowed to use the space. Yenor and Miller’s event will be held in 2022 at a different location.
“The Board of Ada County Commissioners remains committed to developing policies that are transparent, and that benefit all the residents of Ada County,” County spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan told BoiseDev in an email. “…The board is currently re-examining the use of this room and developing a new updated policy in coordination with the Administrative District Judge.”
A tale of two commissions
The public hearing room on the first floor of the Ada County Courthouse has long played host to public meetings of various groups. This included political organizations, notably the Ada County Republican Central Committee.
When Democrats Diana Lachiondo and Kendra Kenyon took control of the commission in 2019, they opted to change the county’s policy and passed a new order banning political groups from meeting in the space. Lachiondo, who lost her 2020 reelection bid to Ryan Davidson, said Administrative Judge Steven Hippler was concerned about political activity occurring in the courthouse.
“I couldn’t care less where the GOP meets, but it’s important to maintain relationships with the courts and if the judiciary is concerned that it makes the courthouse seem biased then it’s important to respect that,” she told BoiseDev.
Hippler did not respond to a call for comment.
Even though the Republicans recaptured the majority in 2020, Davidson and fellow Commissioner Rod Beck have not officially rolled back the previous commission’s order on who can meet in the room. They did, however, allow the GOP to resume meeting there.
“Elections have consequences,” Beck told the enthusiastic crowd at November’s GOP Central Committee Meeting in the courthouse, referencing the group being allowed to return to its regular meeting space for the past twenty years.
ConservativesOf Boise event on, then off
When ConservativesOf President Winston Sanders first contacted Ada County about reserving the room for his event with Yenor and Miller, he got the green light. But, once Yenor’s comments went viral on TikTok and hit Idaho Twitter it drew attention to the event and Ada County’s order.
“I am kind of hypothesizing that the high profile nature of the event propelled it to getting more attention and addressing the policy discrepancy than it otherwise would have,” Sanders said. “What I was told was (Ada County canceling the event) had to do with a policy that needs to be worked out and reworded to clearly state the courthouse’s criteria for holding public events.”
This didn’t throw a damper on the event, though. Sanders called Ada County’s decision “a blessing in disguise” because now the event is going to be rescheduled early next year for a bigger location with more of a statewide focus.
“It turns out that the response we got probably merits a larger venue so we’ll probably put it off until the new year,” Sanders said. “We don’t have a date and a venue locked down yet. We have had a few people offer venues, but we will make a determination after January.”
Enter The Idaho 97 Project
Once word spread about Yenor’s event, organizers with The Idaho 97 Project, a group working to oppose the far-right, had its supporters reserve seats at the ConservativesOf event.
Group co-founder Emily Walton also contacted Ada County inquiring about reserving the room for an Idaho 97 event, but she said after asking for information about available dates and times she has not heard back from the county about if a reservation is allowed.
“As long as they’re giving the same access to every other group, fine,” Walton said. “You can use rooms in the statehouse, you can use rooms in the library and there are certain rules, like you can’t have certain type of events they want to keep out. Which great, it’s a taxpayer resource. People can use it. But, they need to make sure the rules for access are applied fairly and right now it seems like they’re not being applied fairly.”
A review of scheduling calendars for the room obtained by BoiseDev showed nearly all of the events there in 2021, with the exception of the Ada County Republican Central Committee, were for county operations. The only other politically affiliated event on the calendar was a ConservativesOf Boise meeting held on November 16.
Duncan said anyone using the room prior to last week had to pay $200 to cover the costs of keeping the building with security open after hours.
“The cost was to make sure that taxpayers are not footing the bill for any cost of using the building after hours,” she said.