Why did we call on Larry Craig to resign?

August 30, 2007 

Asking an elected official to step down — for the good of the people — is an editorial of last resort.

It's something no editorial board should do casually or capriciously. Calling for Sen. Larry Craig's resignation visits all kinds of turmoil on Idaho's political power structure. More importantly, it tells a 27-year member of Congress that his experience and expertise is no longer of use to his constituents.

But I also believe our editorial this morning arrived at the only conclusion that made sense to our board: Craig must step down.

To me, it was a simple case of credibility and effectiveness. Craig's arrest and guilty plea — and his failure to fully account for the bizarre circumstances of his case — have cost the senator too much credibility. With even fellow Republicans calling for his resignation, our senior senator can no longer effectively represent Idaho's interests on Capitol Hill.

A difficult editorial to write. Not really a difficult conclusion to reach. To me, there is overpowering evidence that Craig cannot recover from this mess.

The sad saga of Larry Craig — and it is sad for the senator, his family, friends and staff and all of Idaho — reminds me of the scandal surrounding former Boise Mayor Brent Coles.

In late 2002 and early 2003, Coles was under a siege of his own construction: a series of startling revelations of lavish, and questionable spending of city dollars on Broadway show tickets, pricey meals and taxpayer-financed side trips while on city business.

Unlike Craig, Coles had not yet been charged with any crime (although Coles would eventually serve jail time after pleading guilty to one count of misusing public money and one count of presenting a fraudulent voucher). However, the scandal consumed city politics and left Coles without any credibility.

At the time, I asked a number of smart political observers, off the record and across the political spectrum, for their take on Coles' future. To a person, they all said Coles was a dead man governing.

They were right, of course.

As an editorial board, we were wrong.

Instead of doing the difficult and right thing by calling on Coles' to resign — as my instincts and my research told me to do — we stood by the embattled mayor.

"We´re not ready to join the chorus of critics who are demanding Coles´ resignation. ... But if Coles wants to hang onto his job — as he has insisted he will — then he needs to get out of hiding."

That's what we said on Feb. 9, 2003. Five days later, Attorney General Lawrence Wadsen announced a pair of misdemeanor charges against Coles, and the mayor resigned minutes later.

Our Feb. 9 editorial was naïve. We couldn't have known Wasden was on the verge of filing criminal charges. We should have known that Coles had lost all credibility and all capacity to govern. Instead, we whiffed. Not our finest hour.

Critics will suggest that we jumped too quickly to call for Craig's resignation — in effect, making the senator pay for our failure to make the right call on Brent Coles. That's a fair question. It's one of the reasons these kind of editorials should be written as a last resort, and only after careful deliberation.

It comes down to defining the point of no return: When is a public official's image so tarnished that it's time to step aside? This is certainly a subjective measure. In the consensus view — but not the unanimous view — of a six-member editorial board that has given this issue a lot of thought, Craig has passed that point.

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