Go ahead, quit us.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Sept. 5 2007 4:03 PM

Go Ahead, Quit Us

To Idaho's dismay, America still has Larry Craig to kick around after all.

80_thehasbeen

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)

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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 North Idaho 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 North Idaho 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."

An overnight poll taken Tuesday showed most Idahoans believe Craig should resign. The margin was 55 percent to 34 percent, which is about how much Democrats usually lose by. The restroom panic will only add to the feeling that Craig's gotta go, so everyone else can. ... 3:24 P.M. (link)

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007

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