Our View: Sen. Craig owes Idahoans an explanation

August 28, 2007 

Sen. Larry Craig has spent 27 years in Congress — with rumors about his sexual orientation following him almost from the outset.

Now, after the report of Craig's arrest at a Minnesota airport restroom, Idaho's senior senator must speak candidly with the people who have hired him for more than a quarter of a century. He owes this to voters — no matter how difficult that may be for him and for his family. And voters owe Craig a chance to explain himself.

Craig was arrested on June 11 by a plainclothes officer investigating lewd conduct complaints, the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call reported Monday. According to Roll Call, which obtained a police incident report, Craig's behavior signaled that he wished to engage in lewd conduct. Craig pleaded guilty on Aug. 8 to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct; he paid more than $500 in fees and fines and was sentenced to one year's probation. A 10-day jail sentence was stayed.

This bizarre case now moves into the court of public opinion, where Craig has a lot of explaining to do:

• If Craig's actions in the restroom were misconstrued and he was not involved in any inappropriate conduct, as he said in a statement Monday, then why did he plead guilty?

Craig says, in hindsight, he should not have pleaded guilty and "should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter." On the surface, it seems implausible that any educated professional — much less an elected official — would face criminal proceedings without hiring an attorney.

• Did Craig try to use his title to make the case go away? According to the police report, Craig handed the plainclothes officer a U.S. Senate business card during an interview with police, and asked the officer, "What do you think about that?"

This suggests an inexcusable abuse of power. Craig was elected to represent Idaho's interests in the Senate — not to use the title of U.S. senator in his own self-interest during a police interrogation.

• Why did Craig not come forward after the June 11 arrest? Did he honestly think this would never become public? For Craig to keep this from his constituents, for 11 weeks, is not merely bad public relations. It's an unacceptable breach of trust.

• Craig has said he is not gay — repeating this assertion, categorically, in a May interview with the Statesman. Does he maintain that today, or has he been lying, blatantly and repeatedly, to his constituents? Elected officials have a right to privacy, but also an obligation to tell the truth about who they are.

Yes, we have pointed questions, as many Idahoans surely do. But there's a difference between asking hard questions and making snap judgments. We ask Idahoans to await the answers before passing judgment.

We are sad for Craig's family, and yes, for Craig. This is a painful time, made worse by the fact that Craig so far has been less than forthcoming. And his statement Monday, at a spare and vague 56 words, raises more questions than it answers.

Eight times since 1980, Idaho voters have elected Craig to Congress, five times to the House and three times to the Senate. In exchange, voters now deserve the full story from their senior senator.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, e-mail editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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