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Washington • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Southern Utah University lost more than he did when it removed his name from an outdoor center earlier this year and had a blunt answer for why the university cut ties.
"It's just the right-wing wackos in Utah, no big surprise there," Reid told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an interview Friday.
The Cedar City university pulled Reid's name off its Outdoor Engagement Center in August after several area residents raised concerns about linking the school to the Nevada Democrat reviled by conservatives. Reid, an SUU alumnus, came to the university in 2011 when the school named the Outdoor Engagement Center for him and joked: "I thought it was a place where young students could be romantic."
The relationship has since soured.
Iron County Republican Party Chairman Blake Cozzens, who was part of the effort to remove Reid's name from the center, said Friday he was offended by Reid's comments but not surprised.
"That's the kind of stuff he does on a regular basis," Cozzens said. And the party chairman said the remarks illustrate why SUU shouldn't be touting the Nevada Democrat.
"Having Harry Reid's name on the building was offensive to a lot of people," Cozzens said. "We felt he didn't represent the founders of SUU and it was a disgrace to the community."
The Outdoor Engagement Center is an office inside the Sharwin Smith Center and not a stand-alone building. SUU has said it will retain the Harry Reid Center at the school although it doesn't physically exist.
Cozzen's father, Paul Cozzens, a Cedar City councilman who was also part of the push to have Reid's name dropped at SUU, previously said that the designation didn't fit with the conservative base in southern Utah and some parents had said they wouldn't send their kids or donate to a university tied to the Democrat.
Friday, Cozzens declined to respond to Reid's comments, but lamented how the removal of the senator's name caused such a stir.
"The intent was never to embarrass anyone politically," Cozzens said. "His name just didn't fit on that center. … It was never about embarrassing Senator Reid or anyone else. A lot of people want to make it that way, obviously."
State Rep. John Westwood, a Cedar City Republican who wasn't involved in removing Reid's name, said it was unfortunate that the Nevada senator would take to name calling.
"I'm sorry that he would say that," Westwood said.
Reid's office declined to comment further on the majority leader's remarks to the Review Journal. SUU officials did not return The Tribune's call for comment.
University President Scott Wyatt told The Spectrum newspaper in August that there had been a hope that attaching Reid's name to the center would bring in donations from the senator's supporters, but the funds never materialized.
Reid said in an August statement that the university had approached him about using his name but said there was never an agreement to raise funds for it.
"I'm not going to raise money to have my name placed on anything," he said at the time.