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Craig in review: Next up

On Wednesday, Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s disorderly conduct case returns 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, the Northwest’s senior senator (and its second most senior member of Congress) may – or may not – resign from the Senate. This the last of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

Senator Larry Craig has said he probably will resign after a court hearing on September 26, Wednesday, but by September 30, which is next Sunday; if he does what he and his spokesmen have said is probable, then you could imagine a formal announcement coming on Thursday or Friday, with resignation to take effect two days later. Shortly thereafter, within two or three days we imagine, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter would appoint a replacement. (On Friday, maybe, if Craig announced on Thursday; but probably on a weekday, and we’d guess not on the same day.)

There’s been no end of talk in Boise about who Otter might appoint, and a very long list of possibles – somewhere around 30 names, the last time we counted – has been released. The focus has been on Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, who is broadly considered the single most likely prospect. When conversation moves (as it often does) to, “Well, what if it’s not Risch?”, then the name of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden tends to arise. And then, after that, a broader list.

We’ll get to some of that in this post. Before we do, we thought we’d discuss for a bit a question hardly posed at all in any public venue: What qualities or qualifications should the next senator from Idaho have?

Should be, in a realistic sense, a replacement for Craig. The voters of Idaho chose Craig (last, in 2002), and their choice – in what they thought they were getting – logically ought to be honored. That’s probably a pretty easy one for Otter to deal with; as a conservative Republican, Craig was in line with most of the governing structure and the front bench of Idaho politics. Most Idaho statewide officials and legislators could fit the mold. If Risch or Wasden or any of most of the others on the long list were chosen, nearly all would position themselves not far from where Craig has. This criterion doesn’t much help narrow the list.

Second, should be someone who could get up to speed quickly and energetically. The fastest might be someone who currently or previously has served in Congress, but none of those names are on the publicly-released list, and the one seemingly most logical, Representative Mike Simpson, has taken himself out of consideration. Among the others, several may have the ability to do that. But the edge on this may go to Risch, who last year demonstrated for the state his quick and effective assumption of the governor’s office, running it effectively for a short stretch. (Many, really a majority, of the long list of prospects would have such a steep learning curve they couldn’t meet this standard, even for those who probably could learn well enough on the job. Maybe a half-dozen of the group could conclusively do so.)

Third, should be someone who can bring some stability to the office even during such a transitional period. That’s a tough job, and who might best handle that is unclear.

From a public standpoint, there’s no obligation on Otter to fulfill any partisan preferences; but from a standpoint of political ethics – you dance with those who bring you – there’s some call to not damage Republican prospects by his choice. Street word in Boise is that Risch, who has expressed interest in the Senate if Craig is out, may run for the seat in 2008 even if someone else is appointed, and that Otter is well aware of that prospect. That could be a factor. (It could cut in either direction.) So might the idea that a younger appointee (such as but not limited to Wasden) might get a head start on substantial seniority in the Senate. (Though we think that ought to be a lesser factor. The added year-plus of seniority the appointment would bring likely wouldn’t make much long-range difference in terms of Senate clout.)

Who might it be?

The consensus view in Idaho runs about like so: The single most probable choice is Risch, partly because of his depth of background in Idaho government and politics, his track record from last year as governor, his energy (he’d hit the ground running), the probability that he could easily retain the Senate seat for Republicans next year, and the opening of a lieutenant governor appointment for Otter. If that didn’t happen, talk goes, Wasden would be the second-most-likely choice. And the selection of someone from outside the announced list (such as, if he proves interested, Senator Brad Little), shouldn’t be eliminated from consideration.

The consensus view is reasonable; as a matter of probabilities at least, it makes senses. But it does come down to possibilities and probabilities. Otter’s options are much broader. And it doesn’t consider what we don’t yet know: What factors will be the most decisive as Otter moves toward his selection.

But if Craig out sometime, say, later this week, we’ll know before long.

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