On Wednesday, Idaho Senator Larry Craig's disorderly conduct case will return to a Minnesota courtroom; there, he is attempting to withdraw his plea of guilty, and service of his sentence, on the charge. Within a few days after that, the Northwest's senior senator (and its second most senior member of Congress) may - or may not - resign from the Senate. This the first of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.
It would be an early, and easy, response on the part of many Idahoans that it's just an oddity, a fluke, that the now-infamous Larry Craig came from Idaho. His arrest happened a thousand miles away. He could have come from anywhere, right? Idaho itself had nothing to do with it, you dig - it was just the state that happened to get caught up in something that happened far away . . .
Or not. Maybe it's no coincidence that al this happened of and to a guy from Idaho - maybe there's reason it happened the way it did, and that Idaho may have something to do with it. Maybe politics, Idaho politics, had something to do with it. Maybe there's something here beyond the scandal as such that a Northwest blog like this really ought to address.
Our recollections of Larry Craig go back to the Idaho State Senate in the 70s, a time when the two major political parties were a lot more similar than they are today, when the philosophical lines blurred, when Democrats on the right and Republicans on the left often crossed over in their voting, when a number of senators around the chamber were considered unpredictable votes, near-free agents, willing to come up with their own ideas and operate accordingly. Caucus loyalty was there, but less enforced than today. It was a different time.
Craig was one of the mavericks. The reporters and lobbyists knew him as an interesting thinker, no routine spouter of caucus rhetoric but someone who worked out his own positions. (We've heard a story, unconfirmed but from an excellent source, about a day back in the 70s when Idaho's top labor organizer visited Craig to deliver a substantial campaign contribution - which Craig, aware the political realities involved, declined to accept.) He also articulated them well - one of the youngest senators, he was one of the best speakers in the chamber, his voice sounding eerily at times like that of the similarly-skilled Democratic Senator Frank Church. Craig's Republican credentials were in order, but his independent streak surely played into his two losses for leadership position, for majority leader, both times to a senator elected the same year (1974) he was, and was much more a strict conservative caucus loyalist: Jim Risch (who may become the next senator from Idaho). There were Statehouse rumors back then that Craig might be gay, most people around the building heard the talk, but nothing concrete was developed and nothing much was ever made of it.
Then Craig changed.