Am not.

Am not.

Am not.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Sept. 13 2007 5:18 PM

Am Not

Only 17 more scoffing days till Larry Craig's departure.


Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Put to Bed: For centuries, the criminal defense bar has snickered that any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. With his fateful guilty plea last month, Larry Craig proved that the old adage holds true for nonlawyers as well. Solicitation may be a victimless crime, but in a case of self-immolation, it's hard to tell where perp ends and victim begins.

Now Craig has more lawyers than a Boston Legal washroom. But so far, the only defense they've given him is that he waited so long to hire them. In his original guilty plea, he clearly waived the right to counsel. On the line of the form that states, "I am/am not represented by an attorney," Craig circled " am not." Of course, Craig's lawyers might argue, circling the am-not boxdoesn't mean you understand it.

Craig is desperately trying to play the victim, but he can tell it to the judge. His constituents are determined to blame him, anyway. The Lewiston Tribune runs an online poll on lifestyle and public policy questions. This month, readers' favorite fair food is elephant ears; they love Wal-Mart; and by 3-1, they believe citizens should have the right to carry guns in public buildings. On the question of whom to blame for the Craig scandal, a few say "Democratic conspirators" or the media, but readers are 12 times more likely to blame the Craig scandal on Larry Craig than on "overzealous policing."

In their latest motion, Craig's legal team attributes his guilty plea to panic over what the press would do if they found out. Today, the Idaho Statesman released audiotape excerpts from a May interview in which Craig insisted that he learned long ago not to panic about the media.

Twenty-five years ago, Craig panicked when a reporter asked him about possible ties to the congressional page scandal. The first-term congressman called an impromptu press conference denying any involvement—giving a national press corps that had never heard of the guy its first chance to link him to scandal.

When Statesman reporter Dan Popkey asked him in May about the 1982 fiasco, Craig said, "A little naivete on my part from being a freshman legislator. I wouldn't handle it that way today, Dan. It's pretty obvious where you're sitting right now I don't handle things that way."

Alas, from where Craig has been sitting lately, it's pretty obvious that he learned a different lesson from 1982—the perils of voluntary disclosure. Craig's problem isn't quarter-century bouts of panic; it's consistently poor political judgment. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a cat won't sit on a hot toilet seat twice, but it won't sit on a cold one, either. In 1982, Craig was embarrassed by his own premature disclosure. This time, he was so eager to cover up, he copped to the crime.

Republicans are lucky that Craig's career is set to expire with the fiscal year on Sept. 30, because even from the political grave, the man has an uncanny knack for saying things that beg to be taken out of context. He told the Statesman he would talk to them about rumors of his homosexuality because "I want this issue put to bed."

In the same interview, Craig denounced his accusers with some of the more prophetic words of his career: "It's a bunch of false crap!" That's what he was arrested for. Now it's his defense. ... 5:15 P.M. (link)

Monday, Sept. 10, 2007

Huckleberry Hound: For the past few weeks, the entire political world has watched the people of Idaho come to terms with a Republican who opposes gay rights but pleads guilty to toe-tapping in the men's room. But no one was watching last month when the state had a very different rest stop—a visit by Rudy Giuliani, Republicans' most openly straight and pro-gay-rights contender.

Giuliani came out to Idaho a few days before Larry Craig did. He's the first presidential candidate to visit my hometown of Coeur d'Alene since Ronald Reagan, but the anticipation hasn't exactly been killing us. If Giuliani is in a national hero, somebody forgot to tell the folks back home. His ticker tape parade consisted of a dozen people holding signs endorsing Ron Paul for president  (subscription required).

Reagan's 1980 visit punctuated the Republican takeover of North Idaho, which had been a Democratic stronghold half a century ago and a Socialist hotbed half a century before that. Giuliani's arrival marked another rite of passage. My hometown used to mimic Twin Peaks, not Sun Valley. Now so many rich people summer there, candidates come from Manhattan to meet our millionaires.

Like most out-of-towners, Giuliani drove right past the Paul Bunyan Pak-Out, the only place in America you can get a huckleberry shake underneath a giant statue of the folk legend. He headed instead for one of the multimillion-dollar homes along Coeur d'Alene Lake, whose floating green is a legend of the nouveau riche.

At a brief press conference before the fund-raiser, Giuliani pressed his claim that he's the one Republican with a 50-state strategy. "When you think about it, every state could tip the balance," he told reporters. "That's what happened four years ago in Ohio." Outsiders often mix up the names Ohio and Idaho—just last week, MSNBC's Dan Abrams kicked off a show about Craig's resignation by saying, "The most likely scenario by far is that by October, there will be a new senator from Ohio." But until now, nobody ever mixed up the two states' politics. Republicans have carried Idaho 10 times in a row, usually by 30-40 points. The GOP might think twice about Giuliani if he needs Idaho to tip the balance.

Ironically, with his record on abortion, guns, and immigration, Giuliani might be the one Republican nominee who could put Idaho in play—for a right-wing third-party candidate. Ross Perot came within a point of finishing second in 1992. Against the right conservative, Giuliani might be in danger of running third.

On his visit, Giuliani sounded a bit out of place, promising that he wouldn't "succumb to the pessimism, defeatism, and a kind of diminishment that the Democrats will bring." That's not how we talk in Idaho—and if we did, we'd use the preferred form, diminution.

On his way to Idaho, Hizzoner stopped in Iowa (no relation). He told Iowans their concerns reminded him of voters from Staten Island: "It's the closest thing that New York City has to—I wouldn't call it rural, but suburbs."

Giuliani held his Idaho fund-raiser on Kidd Island Bay, which is the closest thing Coeur d'Alene has to, well, islands. The lakeshore homes near Kidd Island Bay command top dollar. But Kidd Island itself is about 20 feet across, maybe half that during the spring runoff. After World War II, a returning soldier tried to settle on Kidd Island under an obscure provision that allowed veterans to claim islands as their property. He and his wife built a stone retaining wall around the island and lived there awhile, although she complained that a neighbor on land was staring at her through binoculars. The couple had to leave after another landowner convinced a court to rule that if the water level were lower, the place would no longer be an island.

Today, Kidd Island Bay is filling up with sediment from all the subdivisions. But happily, no one has figured out how to put a house on Kidd Island. In the old days, the few brave souls who lived on the bay could skate across the lake to the town movie theater. The theater is gone now, and the lake doesn't freeze like it used to, so everyone has a satellite dish.

As a Camp Fire Girl, my wife used to earn beads by making the half-mile swim to Kidd Island and back from Camp Neewahlu. The camp closed a few years ago. The Camp Fire Girls sold it for $2 million to former NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz, confirming everybody's suspicion that no matter what Giuliani says, anybody who cared that much about crime would leave New York City and move to Idaho.

Giuliani raised $50-100,000 in Coeur d'Alene. A few days after he left, local Democrats held their annual fund-raiser, the Huckleberry Social, where they auctioned off homemade huckleberry pies, cakes, and ice cream. The hot, dry summer made for lousy huckleberry picking and drove the price of berries above $10 a quart, so Democrats struggled to break even.

Coeur d'Alene probably won't be lucky enough to go another quarter-century without seeing another presidential candidate. A mammoth bloc of $5 million vacation condos just opened by the floating green, which will draw more millionaires the way huckleberries attract grizzlies. Giuliani was just another reminder: It's a nice place to live, and a shame so many rich folks have to visit. ... 4:32 P.M. (link)


Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007

He's Back: Last year, a South African parody of Brokeback Mountain called Bangbroek Mountain offered theatergoers the chance to choose between a happy ending and a sad ending. But one man's happy ending is an entire state's worst nightmare. Of all the things the people of Idaho ever wanted to hear from Larry Craig, the last words on earth would be, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Long before Craig's staff tried to bring him back from the dead yesterday, Jerry Seinfeld was already telling reporters in Las Vegas that the Craig scandal is "one of the greatest things to ever have happened" to comedy. Tuesday's news was a comic revival. Every few years, the long-suffering people of Idaho wonder what our politicians will do for an encore. We're never sure how they'll choose to embarrass us, but in the end, they always come through.

Yet even in Idaho, we're not used to seeing the deceased get up and walk out of their own funeral. At Craig's press conference on Saturday morning, several Boiseans in the crowd cheered when he announced his plans to resign. Imagine our surprise to learn that moments earlier, he had called his lawyer claiming he was being railroaded and plotting to fight the charges. Larry Craig doesn't just know how to tap his toes. He knows how to cross them.

Three months after being arrested for lewd conduct in a restroom, and three days after announcing "my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30th," Craig seems to have decided that in both cases, intent is in the eye of the beholder. All summer, he refused to share his secret with a lawyer. Now he's hiring lawyers everywhere. Today, his legal team asked the Senate ethics committee to drop its investigation into "purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties." He also has hired Minneapolis counsel to try to undo his guilty plea.

Craig's Republican colleagues must be checking the schedule for the next bus they can throw him under. But if Sen. Craig needs a legal defense fund, Idaho Democrats will be happy to contribute. The state's Democrats haven't had a lucky break in 40 years. Last week's flameout seemed to follow the same pattern, as the biggest sex scandal in Idaho history quickly looked to be the shortest.

After a weekend off, Idahoans are back to scratching their heads about their fallen senator. One political expert, Randy Stapilus, points to the long, sorry saga of Bob Packwood, another Republican senator from the Pacific Northwest forced to leave in disgrace. Packwood spent nearly three years fighting sexual harassment charges, until finally resigning after the Senate ethics committee recommended his expulsion. Craig may be the only politician in history to suffer from Packwood envy.

Craig defense attorney Stan Brand warned the ethics committee not to "spawn progeny that even the Committee wouldn't want." The turn of phrase, while curious, was oddly appropriate. For if there has been one constant in Larry Craig's 27-year congressional career, it's that the man hates salmon. Former Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth drew headlines by asking how groceries can sell canned salmon if the fish is endangered. But Craig has always been the one conservatives count on to stop scientists from intervening to save the wild salmon from extinction. He has spoken out so strongly on the issue that when his own number was up, one tribal news service ran the headline, "Sen. Craig, Salmon Opponent, Guilty in Airport Incident."

Craig won't last long enough to beat the salmon. But as his political career swims upstream to die, he might feel like one. ... 4:02 P.M.(link)

Friday, Aug. 31, 2007

Flushed Away: The transcriptof Larry Craig's interview with the arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, contains a career's worth of awkward moments. At one point, Karsnia asked, "Have you been successful in these bathrooms before?" Craig's reply: "I go to that bathroom regularly." The sole bright spot for the senator was when the sergeant asked, "Have you got it on?" Luckily for Craig, Karsnia was talking to his fellow police officer about the tape recorder.

In the end, another exchange may turn out to have been the most prescient. Early in the interview, Karsnia told Craig, "I don't want to get into a pissing match here"—surely the best advice ever shared between two men who've just left the bathroom. Craig answered, "We're not going to," and later added, "I'm not gonna fight you."

During the two months since his fateful layover, Larry Craig has had plenty of chances to stand up for himself in the courts of Minnesota or the court of public opinion. But as he prepares to announce his plans on Saturday, he finds himself trapped, unable to fight or switch.

Few Idahoans' political careers have lasted longer than Craig's, and none has ended more abruptly. Only the legendary Sen. William F. Borah served more years in Congress—and until this week, most assumed Craig would run for re-election so he could one day break Borah's record. At 62, Craig has spent most of his life in public office, since winning a state Senate seat at the age of 29.

But a long public life has proved no match for an embarrassing private one. In five business days, Craig has been abandoned by most of the political allies he made over the course of four decades. He had to resign from the Romney campaign on Monday and his Senate committees on Wednesday. Republican Senate colleagues, from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to John McCain and John Ensign, joined the chorus. Poor Craig can't read the graffiti on the wall through all the handwriting.

On Thursday night, even the most disgraced Republican of our times, Tom DeLay, weighed in: "When you have members that have problems or scandals and they are found guilty, the Republican Party does the right thing and kicks them out." Oh, for the good old days when Republican congressional scandals were just about money.

Across Idaho, newspapers that had regularly endorsed Craig's campaigns demanded his resignation. On Friday morning, the Republican National Committee sent word that it had drafted a letter calling on Craig to resign, but would hold it long enough for him to jump. Officials with the Idaho Republican Party leakedthat Gov. Butch Otter had already chosen Lt. Gov. Jim Risch as Craig's successor. From the Beltway to Boise, Republicans dropped Craig like what he had become—a hot potato.

Idaho Democrats were hoping Craig would fight for his political life a little longer. By making Craig walk the plank and naming a new incumbent to his seat, Republicans believe they can reclaim their generic edge going into the 2008 Senate race.

Friday's papers focused on what the loss of Craig's seatmight cost the state. " Idaho could lose millions," an Idaho Statesman subhed declared, reporting that Craig "sometimes boasted that he brought home $2.5 million a week to Idaho in the form of federal grants." Republicans may be under fire for anti-gay hypocrisy, but their anti-government hypocrisy is still going strong.

Idahoans will happily accept the loss of Craig's clout if it means the loss of Craig's cloud. That way, residents could get back to celebrating Thursday night's season-opening victoryby 24th-ranked Boise State, which has the longest winning streak in the country. After this week, folks are even looking forward to Saturday's mismatch between top-ranked Southern California and the University of Idaho, whose coach wrote "113" on the chalkboard to motivate a team ranked 113th out of 121 Division 1-A football schools. Most Idahoans feel the way the Vandal defense will feel when the Trojans are through Saturday—not sure what all that was about, but glad to have it over.

At the very end of their interview, Sgt. Karsnia told Craig, "Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes." Republicans couldn't have said it better. ... 5:55 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

The Answer Is No:The national headquarters for fighting wildfires is in Boise, Idaho. But as they watch Larry Craig's political future go up in smoke, Idahoans have decided to let this one burn out of control. On Tuesday, an editorial in the Idaho Statesman warned against a rush to judgment. Two days later, the newspaper became the third major daily in the state to decide enough was enough. Conservative bloggers have also  joined the call for Craig's resignation, and online polls up and down the state are running overwhelmingly against him.

Most Idahoans feel a mixture of disgust with Craig and sadness for his family. Yet at the same time, we have our own reputation to think of. Idaho may not have nearly as much baggage as the national Republican leaders who've been so quick to distance themselves from Craig. But a series of embarrassing politicians—and high-profile interlopers like the Aryan Nations and Mark Fuhrman—has left Idahoans pretty tired of being laughed at.

So, after a few days under Craig's cloud, many Idahoans seem to have concluded that rather than get laughed at for defending the guy, they'd rather be the ones leading the laughter. The Statesman editorial demanding Craig's resignation declared, "We cannot afford, as a state with but four congressional representatives, to have a senator who merely provides fodder for bloggers and late-night talk show hosts." Then the same edition of the paper gave readers a roundup of the latest Craig jokes from Leno and Letterman.

Up north, the state's self-proclaimed "Singing Columnist," Doug Clark, has skewered Craig with his own toe-tapping parody song and video. Clark has spent most of his career as an editor and columnist at two of the most conservative papers in America, the Coeur d'Alene Press and the Spokesman-Review. But far from shedding any tears, his video parody is karaoke-bar gleeful.

Set to the tune of Tony Orlando's "Knock Three Times," the lyrics include:

Tap three times with your loafer if you want me.

Twice on the tank – if the answer is no….

(Tap. Tap. Tap.)

Means you'll meet me in the stall-way.

Twice on the tank means you just gotta go. ...

and later:

(Tap. Tap. Tap.)

He's unbuckling his beltway.

White and far right means you're from Idaho. 

Singing Tony Orlando parodies may not seem like a great leap forward for Idaho's reputation. But a state where the license plates say "Famous Potatoes" isn't asking for much. Besides, we don't feel much like singing the state song  right now, especially the verse, "There's truly one state in this great land of ours/ Where ideals can be realized/ The pioneers made it so for you and me/ A legacy we'll always prize."

So, Tony-Orlando-and-john is a start. And by Jiminy, our message is clear: You won't have Idaho to kick around anymore. ... 4:52 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Don't Go Near the Men's Room: The front page of Larry Craig's hometown paper, the Treasure Valley Journal, shows an ominous full-page photoof a town car surrounded by a SWAT team of gun-toting police. Luckily for Craig, it's a monthly that has been on the stands awhile, with a photo from this summer's community relations night for the Eagle, Idaho, police.

In just about every other Idaho newspaper this morning, the guns are all pointed at Craig. My hometown paper, the Coeur d'Alene Press—one of the most Republican newspapers in the state—called on Craig to resign in a scathing editorial titled, " Trust violated, there is no future, Senator." The Press said it had reached that conclusion not as a moral judgment on the allegations against Craig, nor because of "his tepid stance in the Iraq War or his unpopular support of President Bush's proposed immigration reform," but because "the people of Idaho cannot trust their most powerful representative in the nation's capital."

But another story on the front page of the Press poses an even bigger hurdle for Craig: Now Idahoans might start blaming him every time they need to find a bathroom.

The Press warns residents about a notorious rest stop that police have been watching for years. Here's the lede:

"People are scrutinizing public restrooms in light of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's arrest and conviction in Minneapolis this summer. And close to home, it's not a pretty sight. Motorists taking a break at the Huetter rest stop between Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls might want to think twice before venturing near the men's restroom."

In the accompanying photo, the rest stop looks harmless enough. But the caption makes it sound like it should come with its own SWAT team: "The Huetter rest stop along Interstate 90 has had its share of problems with sexual deviants and an anonymous source tells The Press it's still happening."

Twenty years ago, the school superintendent from nearby Post Falls had to resign after being arrested in a rest stop sting operation. Citing a confidential source, the paper says "people would be shocked to learn" that the rest stop is a "hub" for "deviant sexual behavior in North Idaho." The same source goes on to warn that perpetrators frequent several rest stops throughout the region.

D.F. Oliveria, a blogger at a nearby paper, asked readers today, "Do you feel safe using public restrooms?" The first respondent says sensibly, "Not for sex!"

The Idaho Statesman, which Craig blamed for his guilty plea, has yet to call for the senator's resignation. [Update: Now it has.] One Idaho cartoonist showed Craig shouting, "I am not gay. The Idaho Statesman is gay."

But across the state, man-on-the-street interviews were gloomy for the man-in-the-men's-room. Most residents told reporters that Craig's days are numbered. The most encouraging comment came from a Nampa businessman who told the Idaho Press-Tribune, "If the Catholic Church can survive what they've been through, Larry Craig'll be fine."