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Posts published in September 2007

Craig Watch: Day 10/?

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

The state of play - in this game most people thought had ended Saturday morning - over Senator Larry Craig is, if anything, intensifying. It is probably a lesser deal now for the talk show comics, but it has become more intriguing - by orders of magnitude - as a matter of politics.

What handicaps any evaluation is that we don't yet know what the end game for the central player - Craig himself - is supposed to look like; we can only guess. (Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman made that point in his blog today.) But we can speculate that it is evolving. And his role is crucial. Having lawyered up, and having an objective that remains obscure, he is driving this thing now, just as - a week ago - he was being bashed into the ground, in the couple of days after the Roll Call report about his men's room arrest and guilty plea in Minneapolis.

Last Tuesday, when he delivered his first (widely panned) defiant press conference, Craig was being buried under; he was entirely on defense, and the Alamo had been breached. He seemed and probably was at that point still in a mode somewhere between panic and shock, and probably thought that his friends and allies would help him through this. And then they did not - they joined the attacking the forces, led the attacking the forces.

Somewhere around last Wednesday or maybe Thursday, Craig began to come around and think strategically. And since then he has reversed position with his assailants in the Senate Republican caucus - he is consciously executing an extensive and complex strategic plan, while his one-time allies are being thrown back into confusion and panic mode. You get the sense, in sifting through the quotes from Republicans in Washington, that he can't be doing this. A pertinent quote following today's Republican Senate Policy Committee (which Craig once chaired), from an unnamed senator: "If he has the [courage] to fight this, then the least he could do is come here and feel the heat we're feeling." As an expression of mood, that one seems to tell it all.

True: Craig may resign at any point, including September 30; and we don't need to re-recite here why that may happen. You could even call it probable. But there are alternatives, and we don't really know right now toward which of them Craig is headed.

Let's review the sequence, and see what that suggests.


One on One

Looks like the Reichert-Burner rematch in Washington's 8th is - barring some really odd event between here and there - definitely on.

We'd suspected Darcy Burner likely would win her primary election next year against state Senator Rodney Tom, on the basis of a strong emotional backing from a goodly number of supporters. (Blogs have been an important part of her support, and they have delivered in serious fashion.) When Tom filed, he did so saying he might be more electable, and noting that Burner (the 2006 Democratic nominee for the seat) didn't take out Republican Dave Reichert, in a very Democratic year. He seemed to be moving into a position as a moderate and establishment Democrat, a "safe choice" to take on Reichert.

But this morning, in dropping out of the primary contest, he delivered a tribute to Burner's campaign so far: "Our fundraising was going great, but Darcy Burner's campaign has been phenomenal. Darcy has over 3,200 contributors, an incredible statement to her broad base of support."

That also suggests she won't be getting any more (serious) primary opposition. The rerun match appears to be set. And evaluation can reasonably proceed on that basis . . .

Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn

These days you couldn't say this about but so many Republicans in Washington state, but you can about Jennifer Dunn: Had she simply so chosen, she almost certainly would have been, right up to this week, a member of the U.S. House from a western Washington district.

Elected first in 1992, and most recently in 2002, she was as close to unbeatable as you get in the 8th district. The Republican who followed her after her opt-out in 2004, Dave Reichert, has had tough contests both cycles, a good deal tougher than she faced, and is headed into another at least as difficult next year. But even in the changing conditions of the King County eastside, we're pretty sure Dunn would have ridden the wave. She was well liked; her political skills were of an unusually high order; but she also had a fine sense for practicality.

Her death in Virginia - yesterday, we gather, though details are sketchy - was abrupt and unexpected, from a pulmonary embolism. At 66, she was still working actively and involved in politics, in both Washingtons. Washington state Republicans will feel a definite loss there, in addition to the personal.

And some of the shock that comes with the reminder that we none of us know when our time is up. Dunn, highly active politics for many years (she was a state party chair before her election to Congress), made a lot of the time she had. Her voters were among those who certainly seemed to know it.

The Specter scenario: Reality?

We were dismissive when he heard the speculation from Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, that the story of Larry Craig and the Senate may not be done as soon we'd think. He focused on a word in Craig's resignation speech at Boise last weekend, that he "intended" to resign from the office at the end of the month.

On television Sunday, Specter said "I'd like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea and fight the case." And he speculated that Craig's "intent" to resign might be overturned by month's end.

Which seemed pretty unlikely . . . except that this evening, Craig's Senate spokesman Sidney Smith was quoted by the Associated Press saying this: "It's not such a foregone conclusion anymore, that the only thing he could do was resign . . . We're still preparing as if Senator Craig will resign September 30, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we're able to stay in the fight—and stay in the Senate." Separately, he is quoted as saying, "he is fighting these charges and should he be cleared before then, he may, and I emphasize may, not resign." Some reports have it that his new legal counsel has advised him not to leave the Senate before getting the legal issues resolved - if then.

Dennis Mansfield, the conservative Boise activist, evidently caught some of this too. From his blog, posted today:

Well, friends, I said so from the start on Saturday to many of you - Larry Craig chooses his words carefully. Always has.

To many of you who asked me what it was like to actually be at the Boise Depot Press Conference - beamed nationally by almost every station/network - there was the one single thing that stood out to me.

The pregnant pause after the word " resign" - and without a sound it seemed to say everything.

NOW - From national press, (AP, MSNBC, etc) word is out that Mr. Craig's new counselors may well be positioning a full blown fire-fight in the Senate Ethics Committee to keep him in office. A personal and political friend of mine on Saturday, at Congressman Bill Sali's annual Labor Day picnic, said it this way: "I'd advise Senator Craig to tell those SOBs in the Senate to force the Ethics Committee THIS WEEK - I'd take their hypocrisy and shove it ..."(well, anyway, you get my friend's rather descriptive picture).

If this continues to develop, watch for things to get real fascinating, real quick. Meantime, if you didn't earlier, you might check out this post on Craig's various options, explored or not.

AND MORE A good rundown of this evening's developments - a clutch of them - is easily gotten on Talking Points Memo, including the report of an intriguing recorded phone message. And a take from an Oregon defense attorney that "withdrawing a plea on a misdemeanor is far from impossible. The primary factor in Craig's case is that he didn't have a lawyer."

LATER/ALTERNATIVE While that legal theory could be iffy, there's another Craig's lawyers may pull out. Via Huckleberries Online, a report just up from World Net Daily pointing out that members of Congress traveling to or from a session of Congress (as Craig certainly was when he was in Minneapolis - he would appear on the Senate floor a few hours later the same day) are immune from arrest. Article I Section 6 says, in part, that members of Congress "shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same . . ."

Or does disorderly conduct constitute a "break of the peace"? . . .

Clinton’s Oregon group

First question about the new Hilary Clinton committee in Oregon (reflected on this site's presidential endorsements page) is, where's Darlene Hooley? The 5th district representative was the first public figure to endorse Clinton, yet she's nowhere on the list of the new Oregon committee, while a number of much less well known names are.

The second noticeable thing is the relative overall absence of elected officials - complete absence of officials elected as Democrats. There's Erik Sten, of the Portland city council (a nonpartisan office), and Sue Shaffer, elected as chair of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians; but most of the list is made up of activists (though who are, as promoted, scattered widely around the state). The closest link to a major elected official is the committee's chair, Josh Kardon, who is chief of staff for Senator Ron Wyden. (Should we draw from this a conclusion that Wyden is unofficially in the Clinton camp, or is that a jump too far?)

Unusual number of questions that abound, for such a simple announcement.

IN WASHINGTON Fewer questions, though, about the endorsement from King County Executive Ron Sims, who was also named a state co-chair (with Representative Jay Inslee). Her Washington group is small as yet - Representative Norm Dicks is the other endorsee - but they're strong names to have.

McKenna’s take

Rob McKenna

Rob McKenna

Notable tidbits from Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna on Thursday, when he chatted with the editorial board of the Tacoma News Tribune. Three worth some attention here.

One: That Dino Rossi is definitely re-running for governor. No shock there, certainly, though the long-running coy routine has long since worn old. Two: That Republicans are a "damaged brand," and that will hurt Republicans generally next year, including Rossi.

Three: On his own campaign for re-election. McKenna hasn't been seen as at serious personal political risk, and we'd generally conclude he's in strong shape for re-election. (We also continue to see him as one of the strongest Republican prospects in Washington for top-tier offices, in a few more years.) But he and the board did discuss a bit one prospective race and opponent: Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who seems to be positioning himself for a move somewhere into the statewide ranks. Of him, McKenna remarked,"he's told other people he thinks I'm doing a pretty good job. I think I'm doing a pretty good job, too."

RSR transition time

Transition time for one of Idaho's oldest political blogs (almost four years old), and still one of its most-read - Red State Rebels, blogging from the left.

Julie Fanselow, who also has been doing blogging work for political campaigns, is moving into a new non-political job: "Because this work is nonpartisan, I have decided the time is right to retire Red State Rebels in its current incarnation. I plan to launch a new, multi-author version of RSR sometime soon – and then mostly back away. I will leave the RSR archives online as a historical record of the past four years."

From Scott to Hanna, meaning

Bruce Hanna

Bruce Hanna

Representative Wayne Scott, who not long ago resigned as leader of the Oregon House Republicans, was a very strong personality, and his personality had a definite effect on the chamber as a whole. His replacement announced (as expected) this last week, Representative Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, will doubtless have a significant effect too, but it may be a little different.

(We know of the change in leadership, by the way, from a press release; the House Republican web site still lists Scott as leader.)

There will likely be a change in tone simply from the change in circumstance. Most of Scott's time in leadership was spent in the majority, running the House, and in the last session, in the minority, he was only barely in the minority, by a single vote. Hanna, entering the leadership now, will be minority leader from the first, and in a shrinking minority: Seven Republican House members either are on their way out or will be at the end of this term, increasing the odds that Democrats will add to their numbers. (Although: If Republicans do manage to gain even one seat, rather than hold even or lose, Hanna could become speaker.)

There is a little more besides that. Scott has been in the House since 2002, and Hanna since 2004 - a term and a half. Scott has been a relatively autocratic leader; Hanna may be less so, maybe less confrontational. That doesn't mean ineffectual. The Eugene Register Guard reports that "His first act as caucus leader was the creation of a new Republicans-only committee of veteran House members to develop strategy and policy for the special session planned in February. He named Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, to chair the House Republican Policy Committee. Hanna said returning the Republicans to majority status was a top priority."

Sounds like the laying of groundwork for long-term strategy, which might be a wise thing. The 2008 elections are not shaping up as favorable for the House Republicans, but the longer term is a blank slate yet to be filled.

Breaking ground

The Northwest is not a major center of the country's Muslim community, but it's growing. Today's piece in the Spokane Spokesman-Review is a case in point: Saturday marked groundbreaking in construction of the Inland Empire's first formal Mosque.

In the Spokesman: "Spokane’s Muslim population is relatively small, estimated at around 1,000 people. El-Aarag said that the typical turnout at Friday prayers is about 60, and he hopes the new center will bring in Muslims from different backgrounds. He also said the new mosque is exciting for the next generation of Spokane Muslims, including his 7-year-old son."

And he’s out

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

There was a poignant moment before Senator Larry Craig started to speak this morning, when he turned away from the cameras and all the people, the crowd of two or three hundred, and by himself paused to look out from the Boise Depot down the hill toward the Statehouse, and seemed lost in thought. What was he thinking?

This is where he came out of, and this was where the last of his support - personal support at least - was. It seemed to have cycled around: This was where it began, and where it ended. Here, he was not entirely alone. His family was there, as he turned to the cameras and announced his resignation at the end of this month. And Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, Representative Bill Sali, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and others. (Those officials probably merit a kudo for showing up; they showed some intestinal fortitude in standing with a friend, something a lot of other public officials didn't do. Craig's remark: "For any public official to be standing with Larry Craig at this moment is a humbling experience.")

When he said he would quit, the words drew some applause (which seems tacky), but also some cries of "We love you, Larry!" As he leaves office, under immense and powerful pressure more nationally than locally, he may become a more sympathetic figure in Idaho over time. Idaho's anti-Washington feeling may be expanded; it was Washington more than Idaho that led to this.

There was no surprise this morning, and nothing especially new. Craig made reference to pursuing his legal options - presumably meaning trying to overturn his Minneapolis guilty plea - but there's almost no way that will go anywhere.

NEXT UP The appointment. No indication of when word on that will come.