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Justin Vaughn, associate professor of political science, Boise State University

Justin Vaughn

Most memorable airplane trip: On his way to Russia, “I ended up being stranded on the tarmac for six hours. I was sitting next to this person, a grad student at the university I was going to visit, and we had this conversation while everyone else was suffering and miserable and bored. For us, time was flying by.”

When Justin Vaughn, 37, who moved here from Cleveland, talks about Idaho politics, he surprises people, and not for the reasons you might think.

“Idaho politics, compared with most places I’ve been, is extraordinarily transparent,” Vaughn says. “Sometimes I shock Idahoans when I say that, but we have incredible access to what happens in the Legislature. I invite people to come to my class and I’m always shocked that almost every person says yes.”

Vaughn was recruited to Boise State by Greg Hill, now chair of the Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) program, with whom he went to graduate school. He teaches in both the MPA and the political science master’s program. For example, his class on campaign politics brings in experts from around the country to instruct undergraduate and graduate students on everything from advertising to setting up a campaign organization, he says. His focus is particularly on Presidential politics, but works on other kinds as well. He also follows Russian history just because he’s interested in it, and has visited the country several times.

“He has a real passion to build bridges between the university and the community,” Hill writes. This year, through Vaughn, Boise State began holding “The Filibuster Sessions,” a biweekly program held in various Boise drinking establishments to discuss politics, and resumed the annual Boise State Public Policy survey, which had been on hiatus for several years. In addition, Vaughn’s Foundational Studies course worked with the Boise Farmers Market on fundraising for an education food program for kids.

Vaughn admits he does miss the some of the cultural activities Cleveland had to offer. “People here are trying to develop that,” such as Boise’s horror film festival and other efforts in Sun Valley. “It’s just a matter of time.” For example, Treefort – the music festival for which he’s done some work – is also starting to do film-related activities. “A big, high-quality film festival is an expensive endeavor” that requires community support, corporate support, and a lot of people working for a long time as a labor of love, he says. “When you have all those things in your living room, it’s hard to pull off,” he says. “Five years ago, Treefort would have been laughable. Now it’s extraordinary. It has a lot of room to grow.”

What else has impressed Vaughn about Idaho? “The emphasis people put on civility,” he says, noting that the Legislature worked with City Club on civility training programs. “Even in this polarized time, it’s still important to be civil. Some end up on the losing side more often that they’d like, but there’s a lot of mutual respect among people who don’t always see eye-to-eye.”

About Sharon Fisher