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Posts published in September 2007

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?

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Never forever

Points of transition are often opportunities for wider-angle perspective, and the Associated Press' David Ammons, based at Olympia for many years, takes advantage of it in his current column. His column, he says, will move from a regular weekend fixture (a number of Washington papers, such as the Kitsap Sun, have run it as standard practice then) to occasional appearance. The column has been a regular feature since 1991.

Reflecting on 16 years of Washington politics, the rapid-fire changes are what stand out. Understandably so: "In those earliest columns of 1991, you could see hints of the 1992 Democratic juggernaut shaping up. It turned out to be the "Year of the Woman" when Patty Murray and Chris Gregoire were first elected to high office and Democrats took back the White House and all but one congressional seat here. . . . After all that we-love-Democrats what happened? In the very next election? The Republican Revolution, of course."

And so on. Politics is change, a point to bear in mind in other states too.

Craig in review 3: The nature of the offense

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 third of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

You'll see the question posted quite a bit, sometimes in the most unexpected place: What, exactly, was the offense here? What was it that Larry Craig did that was so horrifically wrong as to generate the kind of ferocious reaction, the nearly instant calls for resignation, that it has? And are they justified? What kind of response from Craig is warranted?

Don't jump to a conclusion. This is more complicated than it seems, and not only because so many people - when you pin them down - give so many different answers. It's because some of the answers may lie in the recesses of our souls, back in places few of us like to visit or even contemplate.

And some of the reasons have a good deal of validity, too.

One that makes no sense:

bullet Being convicted of a misdemeanor. There's a reason you got your felonies and you got your misdemeanors: One is considerably more serious than the other, and one is taken as an indicator of a person really not to be trusted, while the other is simply a significant mistake. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell used Craig's misdemeanor conviction in Minnesota as rationale for why he should resign from the Senate. This is a complete crock: By that standard, the nation's president and vice president should be gone too. (Which many people might say should happen anyway, but not for that reason.) Get convicted of a felony, and you're out of the Senate, all right, but lesser offenses aren't, in and of themselves, quite so weighty.

bullet But he pleaded guilty to a crime. Under the law, pleading guilty to a crime and then being convicted is really no different than pleading not guilty and being convicted anyway: Either way, you are formally determined by the law of the land to be guilty. There seems to be considerable difference between the two in the minds of some people, though why exactly is less clear. Is it that the guilty plea more or less removes all doubt that he actually did it? Except, of course, that he now is denying it anyway.

There's also a real question about the seriousness, though, of exactly what Craig did. If you point a gun at someone and demand their money, there's no question what were the specific things you did that violated the law. But tapping a foot on the floor - what's that? Is that a crime? Should it, could it be? What sort of innocent behavior might be snared into something like this? Who knows what's criminal?

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A Clark compromise?

Clark plan

Clark plan

Traveling around Clark County weekend before last we were struck again by the wild growth in unincorporated suburbia - subdivisions all the way from the old riverfront of Vancouver to the outskirts of Battle Ground and La Center. It's visual confirmation of the census and other numbers: Clark County has been growing fast. And the governmental and political backdrop for all this has been the war over planning between the city of Vancouver (which wants massive annexation) and the county government (which would rather not).

Some of this will probably inevitably fall into place over time. For now, there seems to be the root of a compromise between the two governments. Maybe. Tomorrow morning, Clark County will consider adopting a revised land management plan, developed in part with city officials - there are elements of compromise. But city officials are not necessarily convinced; there is some talk of suing to overturn.

We may be coming toward a turning point - things are pressing into collision, or cooperation.

Anti-libertarian?

There's been some perplexed talk among Idaho Republicans about a string of decisions and initiatives on the part of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter , a man long known as a lower-case libertarian - a person strongly disinclined to have government to anything that a private person or entity prospectively could do. And to oppose, as a general principle, anything like an expansion of government.

So what to make of many of Otter's recent decisions? There's the support for a new Ada-Canyon community college. Support for pursuing some kind of medical school for the state, prospectively a big investment. Support for public transportation initiatives. And some of these things quietly done.

Now comes the report that Otter is setting up a state Office of Energy Resources. Which may only add to libertarian wonderment . . .

Craig in review 2: Rights and wrongs

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 second of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We've spoken over the years from time to time with Roll Call, the newspaper which covers Capitol Hill, about Northwest politics and politicians - members of Congress and their doings are Roll Call's subject matter. Vastly less well known than the Washington Post, it is much more focused, closer to - but still less known than - the Congressional Quarterly, but more immediate in its reports. it may be closest in feel to The Hill, also a newspaper focusing on Congress.

All of these publications are professional, solid and serious. They are not supermarket tabloids, and none of them are where you ordinarily would expect to see an expose about bathroom sex. Yet there it was, on August 27 - Roll Call breaking the political story of the week (month? season?). When it did, it did so not the way some others might: It arrived with police and court reports in hand. This was a story about a senator's run-in with the law, a run-in hidden from view for more than two months.

But the intersecting subjects of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, gay sex and news reporting has a long and varied history, fit for consideration in college journalism schools coast to coast. (College preferably, since some of the details probably are R-rated.) Eventually, and maybe not too far off, we'll all see lots of hand-wringing by the usual hand-wringers about how the Craig story was handled over the years, then days and hours after it hit. While events still are fresh, let's check off a report card on the rights and wrongs.

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Baird at Olympia, etc.

Not long after our first post on Washington Representative Brian Baird's August 27 town hall meeting at Vancouver, we fielded a comment from a reader questioning whether the local response there - to Baird's urging for more time for the troops in Iraq - was as harsh as we portrayed it. (We weren't clear in reading it whether that person had attended or not.)

We definitely think it was. Today, we saw an item in the Olympian, about a Biard town hall at Capitol High School at Olympia on Friday, that sounds like a rerun of Vancouver.

The Brad Shannon article started: "It started with a few chants of 'bring them home.' And for most of the next four hours, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird did what he could to explain to a sometimes-boisterous crowd why he favors keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for a longer term. . . . Several people in the crowd of more than 200 at a town hall meeting at Capital High School said they had supported Baird but probably won't in the future. And they weren't convinced Baird had outlined a valid, continuing U.S. interest in Iraq."

Typology

Ararity - an advertising campaign that's fun to explore, from Pemco Insurance. The ad campaign is "We're a lot like you. A little different." And adds, "Because around here the skies are sometimes gray but the people are colorful."

Worth a look. Hat tip to the Tacoma News Tribune's editorial page blog.

Craig in review 1: Roots of panic

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.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

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.

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The Hague record

Jane Hague

Jane Hague

This is trouble, of the sort that has done damage to others before: The claiming of an adornment to one's record that doesn't actually exist. If you're running for office in Washington, and you formally claim it, it can be worse.

When Jane Hague (who nearly ran for the U.S. House a couple of years back, and was reckoned to be a strong contender) ran for the King County Council in 1993 - she was elected - she B.S., Business and Economics, W. MI Univ. (Western Michigan University). In fact, though she attended there from 1964 to 1968, she never graduated.

The Seattle Times reported all this on its front page today. And said, "Hague was asked multiple times this week, by phone, e-mail and in person, to explain the discrepancy. She declined to do so. Several publications, including The Seattle Times, Marquis Who's Who, the Municipal League and the National Association of Counties, published profiles between 1991 and 2000 that stated Hague had earned a bachelor's degree."

She is up for election this year, and until recently she's been highly likely to win. She's had a strong enough record on the council to be considered a realistic possibility for higher office, Congress and otherwise. Her Democratic opponent this year is Bellevue lawyer Richard Pope, a flukish situation - a perenniel (10 times) candidate who has run more often as a Republican than as a Democrat and has gotten little support from his party.

But then came June 2, when not only was she arrested for driving under the influence, but took after police with what she acknowledged was "rude and abusive behavior."

Now the bio reports (see also the reporting on Horse's Ass) are complicating her situation considerably. Whether enough to cause to lose to Pope is so far uncertain. But you can sense the tone in the quote from former Republican legislator Toby Nixon, who started by loyally saying, "I completely expect Jane to get re-elected," then adding pragmatically, "Maybe it won't be as huge a margin as it otherwise would have been."