Karl Rove’s scheduled visit to UMass sparks controversy
Republican strategist Karl Rove gestures during a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention in Sacramento, Calif., on March 2. His talk scheduled for Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has produced a variety of reactions. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »
** FILE - In this May 26, 2009 file photo provided by StarPix, former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove talks during Madison Square Garden Entertainment's 2009 Speaker Series, at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (AP Photo/Marion Curtis, StarPix, File) Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — David Kaufman, president of the Republican Club at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said his group has been working for months to bring national GOP strategist Karl Rove to campus.
So, when the head of the local American Friends Service Committee emailed him Friday urging the club to reconsider its invitation to have Rove speak Tuesday at UMass, Kaufman didn’t back down.
“He’s important, intelligent, influential and a historic person in our country,” Kaufman said. “He’s just such a major face of the Republican Party. This seems like the coolest time ever to bring him to campus.”
Rove is scheduled to speak at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the ballroom at the UMass Student Union. Admission is free but audience members are urged to arrive early, as security will be tight. Doors to the 400-seat ballroom will open at 7:30 p.m.
The planned appearance by Rove — who headed up George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and served as his deputy chief of staff — has sparked opinions across the local political spectrum.
The American Friends Service Committee’s Facebook page, which posted an “emergency organizing meeting” Thursday of those opposed to Rove’s visit, called him “a person who should be in jail” for his role in “manipulating the 2000 presidential election,” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his recent work raising funds for conservative political candidates.
By contrast, one of more than 200 comments posted on masslive.com said those who object to Rove’s talk are “leftists who have shown their true colors: shout the opposition down, don’t let them speak, and heaven help us, don’t let others listen to those who do not toe the liberal line.”
Kaufman, a UMass sophomore, said that while the Republican Club had anticipated Rove would be a controversial choice for speaker, members did not expect to be asked to cancel his appearance.
“We have never boycotted any liberal speakers,” he said. “And I would never condone that. I think that’s a shame.”
Kaufman said Rove, who was offered a $15,000 speaking fee by the club, will take questions from the audience after his talk on the direction of the Republican Party.
“All these people who want to protest should come and ask questions instead of whining,” Kaufman said.
Jeff Napolitano, program coordinator of the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, said he asked Kaufman to reconsider bringing Rove to campus because “Rove should not be a respected member of society celebrated by appearing at a university.
“The actions he’s done, from his role in the Bush presidency to revealing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, that’s an honor he doesn’t deserve,” Napolitano added. Plame’s identity as a covert CIA officer was leaked — a disclosure many believe was engineered by members of the Bush administration as payback for her diplomat husband’s criticisms of the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
Napolitano emphasized that not everyone who attended the committee’s organizing meeting last week wants to see Rove’s appearance on campus canceled. Some people will be protesting on the steps outside the Student Union and others will ask pointed questions during Rove’s talk.
“The point is, he’s been asked to speak but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be silent,” Napolitano said. “If he’s given a platform to speak, we want to express our opposition to that.”
Northampton peace activist Paki Wieland said she plans to attend the protest.
“It’s a way to alert the larger community that Karl Rove can’t come and have his speaking just whitewashed,” Wieland said. “For me, that’s the issue. Not whether he has the right to speak.”
UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski, who is executive director of the campus news office, said UMass has a long tradition of open and free speech.
“Rove is certainly prominent and in some quarters, a controversial figure,” he said. “Whether you agree with him or not, he’s one of the most influential figures in recent political history.”
The Smith College Republican Club is co-hosting Tuesday’s event.