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?

Here’s an abbreviated list of names we’ve seen and heard mentioned.

bullet Himself. Yeah, he could. Okay, he’s not gonna. But it’s been done before, and in Idaho: In 1945 Governor Charles Gossett had himself appointed to the Senate, and in the next election not only did he lose his Senate seat, but his replacement as governor lost his seat too. Won’t happen. But just sayin’.

bullet Representative Mike Simpson. In some ways, Simpson, as the senior House member, well regarded around the state, strong politically, might almost have a sort of “right of first refusal.” He has at times indicated interest in the Senate (and the governorship, too). He and Otter got on very well when they served together in the House earlier this decade. We’ve talked this week with Idaho Republicans convinced that Simpson will be the appointee, not on the basis of inside knowledge but because of the external points. (There’s enough interest to draw an attack on Simpson from Club for growth, which has backed the other Idaho House member, Bill Sali.) This appointment would trigger a special House election in the 2nd district, but we’re hard put to see why that would be a big problem. A Simpson appointment – if Simpson wants the job – very credibly could happen.

bullet Representative Bill Sali. Sali’s backers have been mounting a campaign of sorts to press for a Sali appointment; but we don’t see the argument for it. This one would fall into the category of a major surprise.

bullet Interior Secretary (former Governor) Dirk Kempthorne. Gotta include the name; but he’s already been there, done that, left after one term . . . why would he leave the cabinet to take it? Seems highly unlikely.

bullet Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Young, highly regarded (including from unusual and unexpected quarters), Wasden has like Risch been elected twice statewide. A longer shot, but there’s some logic to it, and his name has come up several times.

bullet State Senator Brad Little. He’s a close friend of Otter’s and also one of the best-regarded state legislators, across the political spectrum (which doesn’t mean he’s a soft Republican – he’s state Senate Republican caucus chairman). A Little appointment would mean the big-time launch of a major political career. This would be a dark horse choice which has a serious rationale behind it.

bullet Former Senator James McClure. The idea here would arise if Otter wanted the Republican party to determine the next senator, as happened the last time an Idaho governor – Republican Robert Smylie – made a Senate appointment, that of former Governor Len Jordan. (Several others also vigorously sought that appointment, in 1962.) From an email we received: Otter “can look really good by appointing Jim McClure as interim U.S. Senator. Not certain, [but] his past seniority might be worth something regarding committee assignments. He already knows all the players – and how to play the game. He is best qualified to be most effective for Idaho in the short term.” McClure, a very skilled senator over three terms, would be an interim appointment, till the next election – but he would do the job soundly in that time. And Republicans could then has out the options in the primary.

bullet E-mails are touting a bunch of prospects. (One we saw – and we have no information that it was authorized – promoted appointment of Boise activist Brandi Swindell.)

And an army of others.

Will it be Risch? Could be. But we’re hesitant to jump to conclusions until such time as Otter announces his.

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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.

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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.

Senators cannot be recalled or impeached. They can be expelled, by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. This is a rare event – the clubbiness of the Senate makes it close to unheard of. No senator has been expelled since 1862, when the cause was that they backed the Confederacy rather than the Union. Proceedings have begun several times since then, and in some cases might resulted in expelling except that the senators involved tended to resign prior to a vote. The most recent of these concerned a Northwesterner, Oregon’s Robert Packwood, in 1995. Before that, you go back to 1982, then to 1942 – it doesn’t happen a lot. The current ethics activity notwithstanding, we strongly doubt that it would happen in Craig’s case; in nearly all of the earlier cases in the last century, there was a far stronger allegation of abuse of office or official corruption than here.

Plus, less than a year and a half of Craig’s term remains. Proceedings could take months. Could Craig tough it out?

Consider the Packwood case (which Craig knows well, since he was involved in negotiating Packwood’s departure). The Oregon senator had been asked about sexual harassment charges in October 1992, just before his re-election, and the story exploded publicly three weeks after that election. The case never entirely died down, but not until May 1995 did the Senate Ethics Committee deliver its report, and Packwood finally resigned in September of that year – nearly three years after the charges went public. (He did consider, then rejected, resigning in late 1993.) Craig’s term lasts less than half that time span.

Here’s a description of that time from the 1996 Almanac of American Politics: “For a time, things appeared to turn up for him. . . . By spring 1994, he could make appearances in Oregon without jeering crowds. His fellow Republicans resisted moves to oust him. When Republicans won a Senate majority in November, Packwood was suddenly Finance Committee chairman again.” Until mid-1995, he again became as busy a senator as he had been before.

Within the insular world of the Senate, Craig still retains his vote, one of 100, and all the senatorial prerogatives (including such things as holds, which could be used to make colleagues’ lives pleasant or miserable); even at worst, even without committee assignments, there’s some clout and leverage available. And over the course of weeks or months, if he made clear he was staying put, he might be able to get those committee assignments back. His absence from committees affords, for now, one less Republican and conservative vote.

Over time, he could speak out on various issues, offer policy proposals, and diffuse the current one-dimensional depiction of who Larry Craig is. And that could be a real consideration. Think about it: If he leaves now, he will be known overwhelmingly and forever (despite his friends’ ministrations) not for 27 years of work in Congress but as that dirty old senator who went trolling bathrooms for gay sex: Known forever as a bad joke. If he quits, that image will be locked in, nearly unchangeable. If he stays, there’s a possibility of at least amending or softening it, a chance that day in Minneapolis will not completely overwhelm his years in Washington and Idaho.

How effective would he be? Less, unquestionably, than he has been. But Packwood probably could argue that, after some weeks (and months) of initial furor, he maintained some effectiveness in the Senate regardless, for a couple of years.

Okay. So there’s some case for Craig staying on. Is there any case at all for – as he held out the possibility on Tuesday – running for re-election? (Numbers favoring running again are, in the Spokane and Lewiston on-line polls, far below even the small minority favoring him serving out the term.)

Maybe.

One of the key arguments against running would involve the potential damage he might do to the Republican Party. His filing would instantly draw at least one significant primary opponent and maybe more, and it easily could turn into a massive squall. That scenario constitutes the best scenario we can come up with for a win by Democrat Larry LaRocco – he might favored to win under those conditions (coupled with running in a strong Democratic year).

But then, why should any of that bother Craig? His traditional political allies have been the first to throw him under the train. Their loyalty to him has been almost nonexistent; why should he not reciprocate?

It is true that his odds of re-election would be slim. But what would he have to lose?

He might have something to gain.

Craig has, for 27 years, been a tightly disciplined political figure, carefully measuring what he should and shouldn’t say, adhering to protocol and taking care not to offend. (When he told the Idaho Statesman in an interview that as a politician he and his campaigns had never gone on the attack against opponents other than on policy issues, he was – so far as we can recall – telling the truth.) Suppose you were Larry Craig, with the accumulation of three decades of stuff you’d like to say but never could? Remember the musician George Harrison of the Beatles, whose output was limited in the context of the group, but burst out with a surprisingly fine and expansive album, and other works, afterward? For Craig, a bright and highly articulate man, this would be a one and only opportunity, a rare chance few people ever get, after all these many years in and around public office, to fully and completely say exactly what’s on his mind. Political unknowns do it all the time, but hardly anyone pays attention. Craig could get all the attention he wanted, for anything he wanted to convey.

And in the process dramatically change the terms of what Larry Craig is all about.

So.

Do we think he’ll do that? No; based on the whole of his life history, it seems a reach.

But then, he’s never resigned from office before, or left politics, either.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

bullet Coincidentally, Democrat Larry LaRocco already had scheduled an open thread/live blogging session on Daily Kos today. Wisely, he steered well away from the Craig hurricane. Responding to another comment, he quoted Craig as saying he would announced his plans on running for another term next month. Then, “I have approached this race by trying to control what I can control and taking in stride what I can’t control. I can’t control the Idaho GOP and their nomination process. In the meantime, I wake up every day believing in myself and working hard.” There’s some earned wisdom in those remarks.

bullet One of the recurring questions this morning has been, to what extent are Idahoans sticking with Craig? The answer seems to be: Craig’s support has dropped fast. A quick Survey USA poll shows 55% favoring resignation, and 34% staying in office at least for now. We suspect that’s not far off. And his job approval fell from 60% late last year to 38% now (never mind that the current events had nothing to do with the performance of his job).

bullet Editorial in the Lewiston Tribune: “As it stands, however, he has deceived his constituents. The only question is how many times. And it’s impossible to see how he can remain long in office.” The Coeur d’Alene Press: “Our thoughts today go out to the many people Sen. Craig has let down. He should give them solace by exercising, in his final act as a public service, true leadership: resigning and letting someone else complete the remainder of his term.”

bullet In partial counterpoint, there’s also a substantial wave of reaction – more on the liberal side than conservative, but some of both – asking the question: What was it exactly that Craig did in the Minneapolis rest room that was, or should have been, illegal? Tapping one’s foot? What specific action crossed the line? (No sexual act occurred, and no words about sex were spoken.) Precisely how was law broken? There’s not an easy answer to that (we’d be interested in seeing such an analysis); a rundown of this is on a New York Times political page.

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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.

Craig said that he made a mistake in pleading guilty in Minneapolis, and in perceptual terms – if he wanted people to believe this whole thing really was just a misunderstanding – it certainly was. The charges if contested might have given his supporters some room to maneuver, but his guilty plea seems to have sealed the deal for almost everyone. (As a matter of formality, the legal plea document which he signed says, “I now make no claim that I am innocent of the charge to which I am entering a plea of guilty.”)

We’ve scrounged all over the web in the last day looking for someone supporting Craig’s version of events; so far, we’ve found no takers, no one outside his immediate circle who seems to take the senator’s word on this, with one limited exception: Idaho Republican Chair Kirk Sullivan, who said “Nobody’s proven anything” and that Craig could remain effective in the Senate. (Technically, he’s wrong; the guilty plea amounts to legal proof of guilt.)

Ironically, Craig may have made matters worse now by announcing he was hiring a lawyer for him on this, even though the central case – the criminal one – is closed and over with. That sounds like a guarantee of more news to come, a prospect that has to appall his fellow Republicans. (That’s not to mention what would happen if more reports of other incidents emerge in the days or weeks ahead as, after this, they easily could.)

What made the situation worse still was the details. We have the suspicion that things might be a little different if, say, the report were that the senator had an affair with a man, in some motel or residence. Something about the whole report about prowling in public mens’ rooms made the whole thing a lot more gut-churning; the reaction is probably a lot more visceral, and that matters.

Almost immediately after the Roll Call report, Craig resigned from his leadership position in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. And the video of Craig endorsing Romney partly on grounds of shared strong family values is now off the Romney web site (though it remains on UTube). That might have been enough, except that Romney himself evidently has decided that more distancing is needed. One national blog (under the headline “Romney throws Craig under bus“) says that “the lurid details of this story and past whisperings about Craig make him politically radioactive right now.” Here’s a report about what Romney had to say about one of his first, strongest and best supporters:

“Once again, we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence,” Romney told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in a broadcast to be aired later. “Very disappointing. He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine. … I’m sorry to see that he has fallen short.” . . .

“I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton,” Romney told Kudlow, in remarks reported on the network’s First Read blog. “I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we’ll just forgive and forget.”

This is way beyond “this person is no longer associated with my campaign.” There’s a message here.

Craig’s colleagues in the Senate today have just called for an investigation into the Minneapolis incident and related matters – that is, his Republican caucus colleagues, not the Democrats, got together and did this. There’s a message in this too.

Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance, who (with reason) argued last fall against jumping to conclusions about Craig in the absence of solid evidence, now has this to say: “It strains credulity to think that the senator can provide an explanation for his guilty plea if he did nothing more than accidentally brush someone’s foot with his shoe and pick up a piece of paper off the floor. . . . If the senator did indeed engage in the behavior to which he pled guilty, then the appropriate thing for him to do is to resign from office. Character is an essential qualification for public service, and the essence of character is what you do when you do not think anyone is looking.”

Idaho Falls’ Trish and Halli extend the point a bit: “This incident should shake the Idaho Republican party to its foundation. Craig has been nothing if not the paragon of decorum during his years in office, rising to leadership in powerful senate committees and commanding decisive victories over all challengers. All that was apparently thrown in the trash bin during a moment of impropriety.”

Some other Republicans are being gentler; Craig’s fellow Idaho senator, Mike Crapo, reminded constituents in interviews today that Craig has served with distinction for many years (counting his years in the state Senate, since 1974). But when asked whether Craig would resign, Crapo would only defer that question to Craig himself. You don’t have to ponder hard to read the unsaid message here, either.

There are some calls, now, for Craig’s resignation from more usual sources. The Idaho Falls Post Register (no open link available), which editorially hasn’t been a Craig backer anyway, was quick to do so: “Craig engaged in deception, and because of that, he can’t be trusted. Craig’s credibility is shattered. He cannot seek another term in the U.S. Senate. He can’t serve effectively in the remaining 16 months of his term. Craig should quit.” We suspect other Idaho papers will be editorializing on similar lines before long.

Craig probably hasn’t absorbed it all yet; he may in something approaching shock. (Most people would be.) But when he does, he may look ahead and find hard to imagine living through 16 more months of this. We think his resignation has become simply a matter of time.

RE RUNNING What if, despite it all – and we don’t think this likely – Craig announces in a few weeks that he actually would run for a fourth term next year?

Can you say, “Let’s watch all hell break loose”? Political analysts would have 4th of July fireworks for month after month after month. Very little in Idaho Senate politics would be predictable. Our guess is that if he initially announced a run, he would later pull out after encountering a raft of difficulties. But if he stuck with it regardless . . . well, there’ be primary opposition, and a key question would be who and how many – no one knows. Maybe the most predictable direct impact would be a decision by the national Democratic Senate committee to pour a pile of money into Idaho, since a substantial Democratic candidate – Larry La Rocco, a former U.S. House member himself – is already running hard, and Idaho politics could be in such turmoil that an upset could happen.

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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.”

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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.

Outside at the meeting

Outside at Fort Vancouver High School

Backing up, a bit.

Baird is the Democratic representative from Washington’s 3rd district, the southwest part of the state, including Olympia and Vancouver; Clark County (Vancouver) is about half of the district’s population, and one of its more politically marginal areas, swinging toward either party. Baird, first elected in 1998 and solidly re-elected since, has gotten firm support there for years. He has been a generally centrist member of the Democratic caucus, but one of the relatively small group that early on opposed the Iraq invasion, voting against and proposing alternatives, and he has been a persistent critic since.

Somewhat obscured is that none of that has changed; he continues to describe the invasion as a terrible mistake, and his words about the Bush Administration are no kinder. His new contention is that some of the pieces that could lead to stability in Iraq may be falling into place, and that maintaining American troops in place could allow that stability to take hold; withdrawing troops now, he said, would certainly lead to chaos and regional instability. “If we withdraw it will be catastrophic,” he said.

His view doesn’t mesh fully with the Bush Administration’s. Baird’s take is that what’s needed may be a matter of some months, until next April or so – he gave no indication he’d be willing to stretch this out for very long. (“This is not forever,” he said.) Apart from that, Baird said that his take on the Iraq could easily change with conditions as the months go on.

You can make the case that there’s nothing very dramatic about this as a matter of practical policy. There’s little question that an American withdrawal, even if ordered right away, would take months to execute, since so many people and supplies are located there. (However, while Baird was flatly convinced that American troop withdrawal would lead to disaster, there are lines of thought that the troops’ presence there now is encouraging more insurgency.) As Baird (and many others) points out, American troop levels will be drawn down next spring by 50,000 or so regardless what the policy is: This country simply won’t have the troops available to maintain current troop levels. So an American troop scaledown likely will occur then anyway, and likely not be before then anyway, regardless what Congress does. (And many of us suspect that any congressional action on Iraq contrary to the administration’s policy would be simply ignored by the president regardless.)

So the differences on Iraq between Baird and his friends at Vancouver may be a little narrower than either think, as a practical matter. That may not matter.

Baird has exceptional political skills, and his ability to control (mostly) and survive this evening’s session put them to a serious stress test; many politicians would have been mowed under. His intelligence (he clearly had thought through his position, and articulated it clearly) and ability to relate to the audience came through; all those critics got a chance to speak fully, and Baird ducked nothing. But, in between his pleas to “hear me out,” as he explained how he came to his views, he seemed to be making no converts. (Our take? We found his rationale and viewpoint compelling but ultimately not persuasive.) And partway through, a military veteran of Iraq, who had flown in from New York, challenged him with direct counterpoints, people he knew and had worked with who saw none of the reason for optimism that Baird suggested.

Further patience wasn’t in this audience. There were repeated calls to “impeach Bush,” and Baird was challenged on that too: Would he support impeachment? Not before seeing hearings, was the reply – and, he suggested, there won’t be hearings because the votes to impeach aren’t in the Congress. (A number of audience members responded that at least the attempt should be made.) With each such response, the crowd seemed to wind up further.

One man seemed to place his finger on the feeling here when he compared protests about Iraq and other Bush Administration policy to a 9-1-1 call: The people have been calling 9-1-1 to report an emergency, but no one ever responds, including Congress. They have felt ignored, and now they’re furious about it. Many, clearly, had hoped for more change when a new majority was seated in Congress in January, only to find much less than they’d hoped for.

This was an unusual town hall meeting for Baird; one woman who had attended several of his meetings previously said the turnout for this one was much larger, and the tenor always had been a lot different.

The ground is shifting. Depending on how Iraq and Baird’s responses to it develop in the rest of this year, the congressman easily could wind up with a primary challenger – a serious one, backed by some of his own former supporters. Or maybe the play-out is something else. But we do know this: We’ve never seen a congressional town hall meeting so bitter and angry at the member of Congress, and that has to mean something.

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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.

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Idaho

Sunday’s recommended read is a profile in the Tacoma News Tribune of the leaders of the Christian Faith Center, the fast-expanding megachurch at SeaTac, Everett and – coming soon, on the move from SeaTac – Federal Way.

The opener of the Steve Maynard story give a sense of what we’re talking about here:

The Rev. Casey Treat shuttles between his two churches in a helicopter. When he arrives at the helipad on the grounds of his SeaTac megachurch, a golf cart whisks him to the front door. Soon he’s standing before a rapt audience and bantering with his wife and co-pastor, Wendy, via video and audio feeds. She’s in Everett, having traveled by the same helicopter from SeaTac.

The couple leads simultaneous services 40 miles apart. Their ministry reaches 8,000 worshippers in their churches each week and many more on TV.

The new church at Federal Way opening at September will be, its web site notes, about 220,000 square feet in interior size (about the size of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter); the TNT reports that the project cost will run about $70 million. It is nothing if not ambitious; audio on the church’s website says that with the new facility, the operation “will be stepping into a whole new level of influence.”

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Jim Clements

Jim Clements

Curtis King

Curtis King

We’ve been neglectful in failing to update on one of the more interesting contests in this week’s Washington primary: The defeat of state Senator Jim Clements, by challenger Curtis King. What it means may take a while to sift out.

We’ve been following this one. Late last year Yakima-area Senator Alex Deccio resigned, opening the seat for appointment. Clements and King both applied, Clements getting the nod partly because not long previously he had won six terms in the House from the same district: Evidence of strong local support. And off he went to Olympia for this year’s session.

King decided to challenge, basing his campaign partly on Clements’ periodic compromises with the Democratic majority (Clements himself would be considered a conservative Republican), and partly on the basis that Clements seemed to take the seat, and his election, for granted. King proceeded to run exactly the right kind of campaign under the circumstances: Very high-energy, pulling lots of people and becoming highly visible. Only once it started to take off did Clements, the self-described “old porch dog,” start moving into action. By July local news reports suggested the race was too close to call.

King won decisively with 55.7% of the vote. What that means may be up for grabs. To what extent does it reflect low turnout in a Republican primary, which tends to help more rigorously conservative candidates? To what extent does it reflect King’s high-energy campaign? To what extent may it also reflect an anti-incumbent mood (see also Spokane)? We may return to this.

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Jeff Kropf

Jeff Kropf

Forner state Representative Jeff Kropf, who left that post to move more deeply into Portland talk radio, is continuing to move more deeply into Portland tlk radio: He now has a consistent Monday-Friday talk show. To this point, he’d been mainly filling in, notably for Lars Larson on KXL; Kropf’s take is conservative and Republican.

The show will be on KUIK-1360 AM, in the mornings. Some commentary and analysis – sympathetic but clear-eyed – shows up in the linked post on Oregon Catalyst.

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Washington Representative Brian Baird has scheduled a town hall meeting at Vancouver on Monday, and it stands to be one of the most notable such meetings on Iraq in the region this season. The reason is his change of tack on the subject. For quite some time basically anti-war, he has shifted course (probably less than 180 degrees, but substantially); his release today sums up his current view:

“The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. As tragic and costly as that mistake has been, a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible.”

Hotter subjects have we none, and Baird’s meeting is likely to be incendiary; at least one protest effort is already under plan. (Remember the the recent boiling point town halls of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who consistently has been nearly as anti-war as most of the people who attended.)

This is one of those subjects on which you’re better off being up front about your perspective, so, while this is a regional and not a national news blog, here’s ours: We thought in 2003, as the invasion was being launched, George Bush was absolutely correct on Iraq. George H.W. Bush, that is, in his calm, reasoned and intelligence/history-based analysis in 1991 (and later) on why American troops should not push on to Baghdad in the first Gulf War: The end result would far greater bloodshed, immense cost, a long-term American occupation of a large foreign country, regional instability, civil war and other demons by the host. He was right then, and right now, and day after day he is being proven prophetic.

Probably few minds will be changed at this point by either that last paragraph or much else anyone says: Opinions on Iraq seem to be hardening, if anything.

But – this being a Northwest blog – we would suggest a listen to an hour-long KUOW speaker’s forum recording, of a talk by Washington Post military reporter Thomas Ricks, consistently one of the better reporters on Iraq, about the Big Picture over there, with some focus on where we’re going.

In sum, he suggests the course seems almost locked for some time to come. He wouldn’t argue with Baird that withdrawal of troops carries a big risk of violence and instability; but then, he said, any option before us carries that risk – there are no good options at all. Whether the level of violence or instability worsens or improves over the coming months, he said, our response will be the same: A year from now, we’ll have half as many troops over there as we do now, because we won’t be able to support any more. “This war rapidly is becming not a problem for [Bush] but for the next president” – and the next president probably wouldn’t be able, whatever he or she wanted to do, to pulled troops and equipment out inside a year or two.

“I don’t think this will end well,” he said. We’re in act three of a five-act Shakespeare tragedy, he said, and the fourth act will be bloody and the fifth “messy.”

We tend not to be quite as pessimistic as Ricks. But his analysis is more clear and compelling that almost anything you’ll hear at a town hall, as calmly and clearly thought out as H.W.’s, and it’s recommended for some pre-meeting perspective.

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McClure of Idaho, by William L. Smallwood, Caxton Press, Caldwell ID (2007).

reviewIn thinking back on James McClure, who was a senator from Idaho for 18 years through 1990 and a U.S. representative six years before that, you don’t recall either an overwhelming personality or riotous controversy; the mental picture can seem a little blurred, some of the normal shorthand – that he was a “conservative Republican” – doesn’t quite seem to cut it, especially for what the terms mean in this decade.

McClure bookThe new – release is set for September 1 – biography, McClure of Idaho, brings some focus. Get hold of two basic points and you have a fair sense of this guy who, improbably in some ways, has been one of Idaho’s most successful politicians.

One is this: He never really left the small, socially conservative, rural town of Payette where he grew up and established himself professionally. Politicians like to say such things about themselves, but in McClure’s case it seems generally true, generating the range of positives and negative you get from that background.

The other, less obvious to most of the public but clear to those who worked around or across from him, is implied by this passage: “You need to know that Jim McClure fancies himself as the consummate do-it-yourselfer. He did all the wiring and plumbing and heating installations in his Payette house during the years when it was undergoing remodeling, and he did the same thing in his cabin on Payette Lake outside of McCall. There isn’t anything around a house that he thinks he can’t install or repair.” McClure was (is presumably), to a degree unusual for a legislator, a highly focused detail man, happier working on the precise language of legislation or on a stubborn electrical wiring job, than in blasting off on the ills of the world.

Put the two pieces together, and you have a basis for evaluating McClure. This book, too – in an analogous sense, it too has these qualities. It is very much an “authorized” biography, and its mood and attitude is suffused by McClure’s and the community of family, friends and associates around him. But its 485 pages are also packed with loads of detail, and it’s an easy recommended read for anyone interested in one of Idaho’s leading political figures and the impact – considerable – he has had on the state.

Your writer should note here some background. I covered McClure as a newspaper reporter and editor during his last dozen or so years as a senator, and held him in some regard (and still do) as a highly capable public servant. (Should note too that the publisher, Caxton Press, also published a book I wrote called Governing Idaho, which can be located on the right-hand column of this site’s main page.) Linda Watkins (the managing editor here) worked at his Boise office as an intern for several months in the early 80s, and left with a favorable impression of both the senator and the office.

Externally, McClure was a classic example of “working up the steps” in politics: From Payette County prosecutor, to state senator, to Senate leadership, to the U.S. House, to the U.S. Senate, and came respectably close to becoming Senate majority leader. All of this suggests a grasping ambition, and in many politicians it would be, but you never got that sense from McClure. From him you got interest and energy about the job, but also an amiability that almost seemed diffident. You can imagine him walking into a room filled with people and just handing out by the wall, waiting for someone to walk up and talk; that’s not really an accurate image, but mainly because he trained himself to push out and campaign. Not many politicians clearly understand their personal assets while maintaining genuine humility and a personable style; McClure was a rarity in that. (Another way of putting it is to say that he had no personal charisma, an assessment he’d likely accept.) While a senator, he never seemed so smitten with the Beltway as to have any trouble giving it up, which he did in his mid-60s. (A fourth term in 1990 would have been his for the asking.)

That may be in part because he was always, in some important part of his mind, a small-town lawyer in a conservative, insular, religious community that viewed a lot of the outside world with some suspicion. For example. The upheaval of the 60s can be described in many ways; when writer William Smallwood characterizes much of it as a period of runamuck federal regulation and spending as the streets ran foul in unkempt hippies (all of which, he writes, was “generating outrage among the concerned citizens in the hinterlands” – so that we know which Americans were the concerned citizens and which were not), we’re getting a sense of many of the people of Payette, and McClure and the people around him, saw it. And how he saw the world, in the big sense, didn’t seem to change enormously however much detailed knowledge he accumulated (which he did) or however much he traveled around in it.

All of this alone might have made McClure a so-so legislator at best, but he also had this gift for detail, and that was transformative. Possibly no other member of Congress from Idaho has ever had it the way McClure did, and it gave him real value in every legislative job he held, and he held them continuously for three decades. Occasionally, the big picture notwithstanding, it would lead him into interesting places, such as his long-running enthusiasm for electric cars, one of which he owned for many years. Detail is the underappreciated heart and soul of legislating, and McClure was a natural at it; this book has the level of specificity to tell what that meant, on a range of levels.

In several ways, this book’s approach is entirely appropriate for McClure. It is thorough, but not to the point of obsession; it is cleanly told, and the key episodes are rendered well. We’d question emphasis and characterization in some places (and there are a few niggling errors), but no glaring omissions.

McClure of Idaho has the kind of plain title that ordinarily seems offhand, but actually earns itself (as, say, Borah of Idaho never did or could have) from the narrative. If either of those subjects are of interest, it’ll repay reading.

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