Jiminy God!: My first job after college was helping my friend Larry LaRocco run for Congress against a first-termer named Larry Craig. When Craig held a surprise press conference implicating himself in an emerging House page scandalby denying any involvement, our deputy campaign manager turned to LaRocco and said, "Congratulations, Congressman." We saw the press's death march around Craig and assumed Idahoans would jump to the same conclusion.
House Republicans lost 27 seats that year. But Larry Craig kept his and hasn't had a tough race since.
If Missouri is the Show-Me State, Idaho is the Don't-Show-Me State. Voters have been content to know that Craig is Republican; anything else would be too much information. If you want to know why we chose to live in our own private Idaho, this case seems like a pretty good reason.
Craig will have a much harder time keeping his job this time, after pleading guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis men's room. Senate Republican leaders have called for an ethics investigation. Idaho's top political prognosticator, Randy Stapilus, predicts that Craig will resign or decline to run again.
Other states expect a lot from government and from their elected leaders. As a result, Idaho often seems like the Lake Wobegon of American politics, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the politicians are below average.
But in many ways, the Craig affair is a perfect storm of the suspicions that make Idahoans so conflicted about politics in the first place. As a rule, we don't trust government, we don't trust politicians, and we've always had our doubts about public restrooms.
The Craig case puts many of Idaho's most cherished beliefs to the test. Next to Alaska, Idaho is probably the most libertarian state in the country. Not everyone agreed with the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth that the federal government was tracking Americans with black helicopters. But Idahoans weren't looking for much else from their congressman, so while the rest of the country laughed at Chenoweth, Idaho's attitude was, "Better safe than sorry."
After the FBI wounded Aryan sympathizer and alleged illegal guns dealer Randy Weaver (and killed his wife) in a 1992 raid, an Idaho jury acquitted him and dismissed the gun charges as entrapment. In 1984, Idaho Rep. George Hansen was sentenced to prison for falsifying his financial disclosure forms and came within 68 votes of winning re-election.
As a senior in high school, I spent three months as a page in the Idaho State Senate. Female pages complained about a legislator of Strom Thurmond vintage, but young State Sen. Craig never gave us trouble. The legislature's main achievements that year were laws banning state police from using radar or requiring motorcycle helmets.
If it weren't for the guilty plea, it's hard to say what verdict an Idaho jury would give in the Craig case. Idahoans approved a same-sex marriage amendment that puts government in the bedroom. But any state that has trouble with radar and motorcycle helmets could have qualms about putting government in the bathroom.
In Washington, D.C., where I've spent the past two decades, everyone lives and breathes politics. In Idaho, people are so used to fresh air, they choke on political news, even in small doses. Yesterday D.F. Oliveria, a journalist and popular blogger in my hometown, ran an online poll asking whether Craig could survive the scandal. In the first 24 hours, a grand total of 6 Idahoans responded.