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Posts published in August 2007

The replacement roster

Word flying around national news media, via unnamed sources, is that two things are about to happen. One is that, at 10:30 Saturday morning, at a press conference (which we do know has been called), Idaho Senator Larry Craig will resign. The other is that, sometime later but in the near future, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter will appoint Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch to the job.

Both may be right; not having heard from sources claiming to know, we can only speculate based on external criteria. Those external criteria indicate that (1) odds favor a Craig resignation (support among his normal alliances and networks having collapsed), and (2) a Risch appointment is a completely credible scenario, but not yet to any absolute point.

Jim Risch

Jim Risch

Speculation, at the national level anyway, has centered on Risch, and understandably. (Stopping right here and noting that the governor's office explicitly says that no decision has been made.) He's the one substantial Republican other than Craig (and we're excluding from that candidate Rex Rammell, who would be running a splinter campaign) who has specifically expressed interest in running for the Senate in 2008, saying he likely would run for it if Craig did not. Risch has twice won statewide elective office (on top of a state Senate career spanning nearly 30 years) and last year won widespread applause for his seven-month run as governor of the state. (This site was among those extending kudos.)

His experience would allow him to jump in quickly. He hasn't walked the congressional corridors, but short of having served there, he'd be solidly prepared. There would be few political problems. If Risch were running for the Senate as an incumbent next year, he likely would be hard to beat, either in the primary (and he'd probably clear the field of major challengers) or the general. (Democrats may not want to hear it, but they should remember that Risch has beaten Democrat Larry LaRocco twice in years past.)

There's a little more: A Risch appointment would allow Otter to appoint a new lieutenant governor, maybe one closer to him. (State Senator Brad Little comes to mind as a prospect.)

(An online poll on the Spokesman-Review Huckleberries blog has Risch winning the vote on predicting who the next senator will be: Risch 47, Otter himself 14, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne 8, Representative Mike Simpson 6, Bill Sali 3.)

So a Risch appointment would come as no surprise. But there are counter-arguments. He and Risch aren't especially close; Risch almost ran against him for governor last year. (They appear to have worked together capably enough, though.) He's not the only possibility.

Otter in fact can appoint anyone, almost, he wants to. His only specific limitation is to an Idaho resident who meets the legal qualification (constitutional) for the job; and there's a sort of political/ethical mandate that he appoint a Republican, as he surely will. So what other options would Otter have?

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Polling Oregon (online)

This could become a lot of fun: A web site based in and about Oregon, devoted to online polls on a variety of subjects - The Oregon Poll.

Gino at the site wrote us about its opening, saying "It's a fun non partisan site for political junkies who're interested in the horse race for political power, even if it is nonscientific. The goal is to get people thinking and talking . . ." Already, open polls on a range of subjects and races are up and starting to fill out.

Unscientific, and of course all the appropriate caveats apply. But we'll stopping by. If it gets some substantial traffic, it could indeed generate some thinking and talking.

Craig’s options, in contrarian

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

Aconsensus seems to have set in on Idaho Senator Larry Craig, three days after his arrest and guilty plea in Minneapolis went public. There's a pretty broad view now: Craig should resign, soon, and the idea of actually running for term - a prospect Craig himself maintained at his Tuesday press conference - should be completely off the table.

This isn't just the four Idaho newspapers that have (so far) called for his resignation, or the three (thus far) Republican members of Congress or the conservative activists who have done likewise. It's also public measurement, the 55% of Idahoans in a Survey USA who turned thumbs down, and the overwhelming majorities in online (self-selected, but now days-old) polls at the Spokane and Lewiston newspaper sites, calling for immediate resignation. And (to be clear), we do think it likely that the senator will resign before long. We also think the cases laid out in each of the newspaper editorials are solidly argued.

Does that mean Craig's options are foreclosed, that he cannot do other than resign and leave politics - or that there's no argument in favor of doing otherwise?

No. Maybe only as an exercise in contrarianism, but also in recognition that the actions of any single person aren't entirely predictable, let's consider the alternative options, and the case for them.

We start by noting this: The choice is his.

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Keeping count

In talking with several Idaho people today, journalists and others, there was a sense that the Washington crowd is landing harder on Idaho Senator Larry Craig than are his fellow Idahoans.

Maybe - but mainly as a matter of courtesy; you tend not to be cold and mean to someone you've known a long time. That's not the same thing as approval.

Tomorrow, the Idaho Statesman becomes the third Idaho newspaper (after the Idaho Falls Post Register and the Coeur d'Alene Press) to explicitly call for Craig's resignation. (At least three others, the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the Twin Falls Times-News and the Lewiston Tribune, appear to be on a hair trigger to do likewise.)

From the Statesman: "Two days ago, we urged Idahoans not to rush to judgment, and give Craig a chance to explain himself. Unfortunately, we have seen and heard enough. Judging from his performance Tuesday, when he read a brief public statement, Craig seems more interested in hunkering down, operating from a defensive state of denial. This is his prerogative. But he should not compromise Idaho interests in the process."

MAKE THAT FOUR The Pocatello Idaho State Journal calls for resignation as well. "Regardless of hat the ethics committee may recommend Craig should recognize that his standing and influence in Congress have been hopelessly eroded. He could salvage at least vestige of respect by resigning. Step down, senator."

MAKE THAT FIVE Add the Ketchum Idaho Mountain Express, which opined, "Instead of persisting in his foolhardy, quixotic quest to reverse his guilty plea in that unseemly Minneapolis bathroom incident, Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig should instead be submitting his resignation as a U.S. senator."

Gorton AG (redux)?

Not a bad rationale spun today by the Seattle Times, in suggesting Washington Senator - and, not to be forgotten, former state attorney general - Slade Gorton for the now-vacant national job of attorney general.

We wouldn't particular go as far as they do. But there's a case here. The man is a former AG, well enough regarded as such, with substantial legal background; he is a skilled politician and knows Capitol Hill and the players there; he is a loyal Republican but less ideological than many administration appointees; no apparent monsters lie in wait in his closet; confirmation by the Senate likely would be easy.

Not to say that's whatPresident Bush will do - a Gorton appointment would in some ways run counter to his normal patterns - but it's worth noting there's a reasonable case there.

Craig, Senate, etc.

And is this thing ever not over yet. We'd anticipate that Idaho Senator Larry Craig will be spending a few days in quietude, evaluating and processing and doubtless talking with selected people about what, exactly, needs to happen next, now that he's had his public say (as he did yesterday afternoon, at Boise - see the post below). For the rest of us, yes, there remain some more things to say. More still may emerge later.

bullet This is a massive national story, and it will not end soon. In just the last two hours, we fielded calls from Associated Press radio (Washington), the Washington Post and the Boston Phoenix. Check out the Idaho Statesman's page containing links to its recent material on Craig; it's a very long list.

bullet We have a Recommended Read: Today's take by Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance, whose views on this may stand as a helpful bellwether on this for a substantial portion of Idahoans. Fischer long has been a supporter of Craig, and he obviously takes no joy from what has been happening; he also seemed willing (notably in his post before this one) to give Craig the benefit of any reasonable doubt. He writes here that he watched Craig's statement Tuesday and watched it closely, but he could not find it exculpatory - it was "unconvincing and unpersuasive." Craig, he said, has lost the ability to lead (especially on those issues of top concern to Fischer), and "the appropriate and right thing for the senator to do at this point is to step down." Fischer does not sound bitter or angry; he does sound deeply saddened.

bullet He also notes this: "One significant feature of yesterday’s press conference is that there were virtually no Republican Party leaders in attendance, and, further, party leaders seem to have draped a blanket of silence over the entire party apparatus. Virtually no highly placed Idaho Republican has gone on record in support – wholehearted or otherwise - of the senator. The best that party leaders have been able to say so far is that they take the senator at his word and hope the public will not rush to judgment. This tepid support may be an indication that the senator’s GOP colleagues believe there is substance to the charges, and are finding it difficult to publicly affirm the senator or defend his behavior."

He almost certainly right. Consider the web headline from today's Statesman report: "Sen. Larry Craig asks forgiveness; GOP seeks ethics probe." The White House says it is “disappointed in the matter.” Presidential candidate and Senate colleague John McCain remarked "It's disgraceful," on Jay Leno's talk show, after Leno launched an extended round of gags on the incident. A least one Republican member of Congress has called for his resignation. Media talker Sean Hannity: “Senator Craig, if you have been engaged in this activity, resign.” Republican leadership has asked him to give up his committee assignments (the last step, ordinarily, before pushing for resignation - after all, what use is a senator without a role on committees?). Craig is getting no defense from his party; they're throwing him overboard.

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A matter of time

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We don't want to swamp the blog with Larry Craig posts, but a little finer point needs to be put here on just what the Idaho senior senator's current status is. Which is: More dire than Craig apparently is willing to accept.

Our initial thought (on hearing the news reports 24 hours ago) was that, since his arrest in a Minneapolis airport mens room had little to do with his work as a senator, he might be able to ride it out, at least through this term (though re-election seems a lot cause). We no longer think so: While Craig is very unlikely to be forced out, conditions are deteriorating so quickly that his staying may soon become impractical.

Craig happened to be in Idaho when the story broke, and this afternoon he delivered a statement at a press conference - no questions taken.

He reiterated that his actions in Minneapolis were misinterpreted and that he should not have pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct misdemeanor. He said repeatedly, "I am not gay." He blasted the Idaho Statesman: "For eight months leading up to June, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman. If you’ve seen today’s paper, you know why." He apologized to his constituents because "I have brought a cloud over Idaho," though he said he did nothing wrong, apart from his handling of the incident. And of his political plans, he said, "Over the years, I have accomplished a lot for Idaho, and I hope Idahoans will allow me to continue to do that. There are still goals I would like to accomplish, and I believe I can still be an effective leader for Idaho. Next month, I will announce, as planned, whether or not I will seek reelection." Finally, said he has retained an attorney in the matter and he acknowledged (though this isn't on the Senate web site), "I'm sure this is an issue that is not yet over."

That last may be the most pertinent point. By reaching a quick settlement on the criminal charges, Craig hoped (as he said) to put the matter quickly behind him. That has backfired: This will not end at least until Craig leaves the Senate. In shorthand, that is because his version of events simply isn't being believed, because the circumstances and details unleashed fall into the category of information we'd rather not have known at all, and because of the reaction of his normal political supporters.

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Craig: Next?

So, what was just a couple of days ago rumor, innuendo and speculation, has become hard fact at least as far as politics are concerned: Idaho Senator Larry Craig's arrest and guilty plea in Minneapolis have begun to saturate both national and Idaho media. It has become inextricably attached to Craig, and that prompts the question: What now? Does this mean he he won't run for re-election next year? (He has said that such issues won't affect that decision; but such an assertion is easier to make in advance.) Might it even mean his resignation from the Senate, as it already has his resignation from a top position in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign?

Craig gave no immediate answers. But the speculation is well underway.

We've already suggested the reportage makes unlikely a run at re-election. Resignation seems iffier, but it's not out of the question, and talk about it has gained steam in recent hours. At the Daily Kos site, mcjoan (who hails from Idaho) writes that "My gut says he's going to resign; his being gay wasn't a problem for the Idaho GOP just as long as they didn't "really know" he was gay and didn't have to think about it. Now that it's been exposed, and it's all over the local news according to my sources in Idaho (well, ok, according to mcmom), the pressure is mostly certainly going to be on him."

Of course, that's from someone opposed to Craig. But conservative blogger Adam Graham, a philosophical ally of Craig, wrote this: "Senator Larry Craig’s guilty plea in June of this year to a charge of lewd conduct should lead to the end of his Senate career. The honorable thing for Larry Craig to do is to resign. . . . Senator Craig’s explanation that this was all a “misunderstanding” doesn’t wash. Nor does his explanation of his guilty plea as something he did to resolve the issue expeditiously jibe. No innocent man in his right mind would plead guilty to a loaded charge like “lewd conduct” much less a man with 27 years in Congress. If Senator Craig is lying, he has a serious problem, if he is telling the truth, then he lacks the basic good judgment to be in the United States Senator. Either way, it’s time for him to go." Graham's not the only conservative to say so, either.

If Craig did resign, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter would appoint a replacement. An early-early thought on that: Don't look to the upper ranks of elected officials for his choice. But let's hang on a bit; Craig may pause to test the waters, check for reaction. What reaction he gets around Idaho may help determine his next moves.

ALSO Conservative writer Hugh Hewitt on Craig: "I don't believe him. Read the statement by the arresting officer. He must think the people of Idaho are idiots. But even if I did believe him, this would make his judgment too flawed to be in the United States Senate in a time of war. He has to go."

Insurgency at Vancouver

Brian Baird

Brian Baird at Fort Vancouver High School

Phil, an older man with wavy hair and background as a boat captain, had known Representative Brian Baird for years; he was a long-time friend and supporter, and ordinarily a question from him at a Baird town hall would be friendly and supportive.

Not tonight.

"You've done some amazing good work," he said, looking downward across the Fort Vancouver High auditorium, down toward the stage where Baird sat, looking up, a microphone in hand. "That being said, " Phil continued, "you've broken my heart."

When he paused, Baird replied, "I understand your broken heart. It was not an easy decision for me . . ." He paused. "And knowing all you folks would be mad." He suggested that coming to this meeting wasn't easy, either. But he was convinced he was right: "If you could meet with the people I've met in the region, maybe your heart will be less broken . . ."

No sale. Phil shot back that Baird had become the "poster boy" for the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, and "I don't like that at all."

"I don't like it, either," Baird said. (Both his talk and Q & A were peppered with zingers at the administration.)

Phil's arm shot out, his finger pointing angrily at Baird: "My friend, you have screwed up, and you have to change course." At that, the crowd erupted, cheering Phil . . .

And this was a crowd, to a big extent, of Baird's best in-district political friends. Or, those who used to be his friends. A few speakers before Phil, a woman who was a long-time supporter dressed him down by reminding him, "We are the ones who hit the ground to get you elected. . . . We were so so proud of you and the work you did." Now, she said: "I cannot believe your arrogance, Mr. Baird."

The audience atmosphere was a little Pentacostal: Cries of "impeach Bush" or "end the war" and similar calls punctuated questions, answers and everything else. In the two hours we were there, not one questioner - out of perhaps 20 - expressed anything other than disgust and outrage at Baird's new take on Iraq. To judge from audience reaction, a portion of the crowd of perhaps 400 to 500 (those that were inside - the room was filled solid and others couldn't get in) supported him, but that portion was surely less than 10%.

Shouted one person, midway through: "You think you're going to be re-elected?"

Baird: "It doesn't matter to me." Maybe, in the face of all that, it didn't.

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The Craig report

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We have been saying, consistently, for some time, that odds favor Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig seeking, as opposed to not seeking, re-election to the Senate next year. This afternoon, we're reversing that estimate. You might think that means something has changed; that something would be this, from the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call:

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd conduct complaints in a men’s public restroom, according to an arrest report obtained by Roll Call Monday afternoon.

Craig’s arrest occurred just after noon on June 11 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in the Hennepin County District Court. He paid more than $500 in fines and fees, and a 10-day jail sentence was stayed. He also was given one year of probation with the court that began on Aug. 8.

A thorough report recounting exactly what the police report said is on the Roll Call site (which at times was so busy this afternoon we had some difficulty breaking in; most of it is alternatively available at the Talking Points Memo blog). (We might also add, for those unfamiliar with it, that Roll Call is not scandal sheet, but a solid mainstream reporter of activity at Congress. Its reports are solidly and broadly credible.)

You may recall that last fall, a speaker on a national radio program declared that Craig was gay. If you're in Idaho, you may know that the biggest local open secret of the months since has been that Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey worked for monthly researching that question, though no reports from that research have yet surfaced. (We're betting something will appear shortly, though.) The Statesman's web site does have a post under the line, "Report: U.S. Sen. Craig arrested in June for lewd conduct in men's room." Obviously, the story has gone national. The Atlantic Monthly comments, "Needless to say, there will be a lot more to this story."

What Craig pleaded guilty to, to be clear, was disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor), which can encompass a range of bad behavior. But his plea of guilty still runs up against the staff description of the incident as (in words that may be regretted already) a “he said/he said misunderstanding.” You might think that if Craig thought the incident really could be explained away as a misunderstanding, on a matter of this kind of sensitivity, that he would have it fought it.

Craig's office indicated it would have another statement out later in the day. When we see it, we'll note it here.

None of this precludes Craig from running again. We do think it will make it less likely.