The hot chatter among political people in Boise last week was about bulls---.
It was the underlying and overt topic at a panel discussion before a statewide group of high school teachers, and it was a subject of high interest. And although the incident was minor, there's an aspect to it that may keep it alive for some time to come.
Here's the background. Earlier in the week, a Boise club held a debate forum on the three school-related referenda on the ballot in the general election, to decide if the 2011 school overhaul laws championed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna should stand or be thrown out. Luna was there arguing for the laws, and Democratic state Representative Brian Cronin, who is also working for an anti-laws group, were debating the subject.
The crowd was apparently civil and well-behaved, generally at least, but things got little intense between Luna and Cronin. After Cronin delivered his opening statement, Luna leaned over and whispered something to him. What it was is in dispute. Luna says he said something critical about Cronin's talking points, but that it was G-rated. Cronin said the language was more, well, intense.
It might have ended there except that the moment was caught on audio, and even has been broadcast. The audio isn't definitive. Reporter Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review wrote that it "is very difficult to make out, because Luna is practically whispering in Cronin's ear while the audience is applauding loudly." There have been attempts at noise reduction, and word circulated that another recorder also caught the exchange, but these aren't definitive either.
None of this is very important as to the merits of the referenda. But there is some significance, because both Luna and Cronin are being mentioned as possible candidates for governor in 2014. Cronin is best known around the state as a critic of the "Luna laws," and Luna himself is much more identified with the legislation than with most anything else. One meaning of this is that political futures could be affected by whether the laws survive the election or not, and another is that Luna's and Cronin's performance in this ballot issue battle cold set a stage for the future campaign.
That's mattering a little more as time goes on, because the dispute is unresolved. If, say, Luna had acknowledged the remark Cronin alleges – whether it was real or not, or maybe some kind of half-mea culpa (“I may have been a little heated there,” or something similar) might have sufficed - he would have had the whole matter behind him; the subject is asked and answered. Representative Raul Labrador did that when his opponent criticized him for missing too many votes in Congress. He offered a partial explanation, but then said that, yes, he had missed more votes than he should have, and he would try to do better in future. That closed the subject (for now anyway).
It's the nagging loose ends that give the story some legs. The comment Luna was said to have delivered wasn't, after all, so terribly extreme even if true. But the did-he or didn't-he aspect may not specifically go away, and it may feed into other narratives down the road.