A restroom-sex scandal will drive Sen. Larry Craig from office Saturday,bringing an anguished end to the Idaho Republican's 27-year career inCongress.
Craig's office said late Friday that he would reveal his plans at 10:30 a.m.at the Boise Depot. Republican officials told the Idaho Statesman and theAssociated Press that Craig will resign.
Gov. Butch Otter will name a Republican to complete Craig's term, which endsin January 2009. The contest for a full six-year term will be held in 2008.Craig's decision closes a surreal week that began Monday with news of Craigpleading guilty to disorderly conduct and made his woes the top news storyin the country.
"I can't think of anything comparable in my years of watching Idahopolitics," said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University,"both in how quickly he fell and in the role, apparently, of national partyleadership in just cutting him off."
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Craig, 62, was felled by his conviction in connection with his June 11arrest in a men's room at a Minnesota airport. A police officerinvestigating homosexual conduct alleged Craig solicited him for sex. Craig,in a tape of the police interview broadcast repeatedly on national TV, toldthe officer, "You solicited me." He also accused the officer of entrapment.Craig told the officer he wasn't gay. Yet he didn't fight prosecution. Amore serious charge, interference with privacy, was dropped and Craigpleaded guilty Aug. 8 to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Craig reversed course Tuesday, saying he regretted his plea, and had hired alawyer to explore his options. "I chose to plead guilty to a lesser chargein hopes of making it go away," Craig told a national audience watchinglive. He vowed to stay on the job.
Craig also blamed the Idaho Statesman, which spent five months investigatingCraig's repeated denials of homosexual acts. The rumors of hypocrisy wererooted in Craig's pre-emptive denial in 1982 that he had sex with underagemale pages on Capitol Hill, and revived by a gay activist blogger last fall.
On Monday, Craig's conviction was reported in a Capitol Hill newspaper, RollCall. On Tuesday, the Statesman published its findings. The 3,800-wordStatesman story included the account of an unnamed 40-year-old Washington,D.C., man who said he had sex with Craig in a men's room at a Washingtonrail station. Two other unnamed men said Craig made sexual advances towardthem, one in 1967 and another in 1994. Craig told the Statesman the allegations of the three men were false and that he had never engaged in or solicited sex with a man.
Craig said the Statesman "relentlessly and viciously harassed" him and hisfamily, clouding his judgment and prompting his guilty plea. Craig said hetold no one -- not his lawyer, not a colleague, not a friend, not his wife --about the arrest and conviction until Roll Call unearthed court and policefiles.
Despite that explanation, the support Craig needed to survive didn't follow.Idaho Republicans said they felt for Craig and his family, but were carefulnot to defend his conduct.
National Republican leaders swiftly abandoned Craig, making resignation hisonly option. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky calledCraig's actions in Minnesota "unforgivable." Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, whoheads the Senate GOP's 2008 re-election effort, said it would be best forCraig to go.
Mitt Romney, who had named Craig a co-chairman of his presidential campaign,condemned Craig¹s behavior and stripped any mention of Craig from his Website, including a video of Craig saying he supported Romney because offamily values. President Bush expressed disappointment. On Friday, theRepublican National Committee was prepared to issue a statement calling forCraig's resignation, but relented after "party leaders received anindication that Craig was going to step down," a GOP source told McClatchyNewspapers.
The loud consensus among political analysts was that Craig had become a deadweight on GOP hopes for retaining the White House and reclaiming Congress in2008.
In Idaho, however, his imprint was historic. Only one other Idahoan,Republican Sen. William Borah, for whom the state's highest peak is named,represented Idaho longer.
Craig rose from modest beginnings on a family cattle and hay ranch 24 milesup a hill-country road from Midvale. The ground was homesteaded by hisgrandfather in 1899. Craig attended the one-room South Crane School, becamea champion orator, national vice president of the Future Farmers of America,and student body president at the University of Idaho. He worked on formerGov. Bob Smylie's failed campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1972, but reboundedin 1974, when, at age 29, he was elected to the first of three terms in theIdaho Senate. Craig tried ranching, but an ambition ignited in high schooldrew him to national office.
He won election to the U.S. House in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan waselected president, marking a rise of conservative Western politicians inWashington. Craig won four more terms before replacing another giant ofIdaho politics in 1990, Republican Sen. Jim McClure.
In the Senate, Craig was the youngest-ever leader of the Republican SteeringCommittee, a conservative policy group. He held the No. 4 GOP Senateleadership position from 1997 to 2002. Until Democrats took over the Senatein January, he chaired the Veterans Affairs Committee and a subcommitteecontrolling federal land policy, vital to Idaho agriculture, timber, miningand recreation.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, he delivered tens of millionsof dollars for Idaho projects, from research on wine grapes and sheep tobacking for a new nuclear reactor at the Idaho National Lab and a new museumat the Discovery Center of Idaho. He was a director of the National RifleAssociation and beat back efforts by environmentalists to breach dams on theLower Snake River and decommission the Port of Lewiston.
He also was a reliable foe of gay rights, opposing gays in the military,extension of civil rights protections in the workplace and campaigning forthe 2006 amendment to the Idaho Constitution that bans both gay marriage andcivil unions.
Recently, Craig became a target of opponents of compromise immigrationreform. His AgJobs bill, which would allow undocumented workers to remainand follow a path to citizenship, made him a pariah among those seeking todeport millions of non-citizens from the country. Among his allies wasPresident Bush, but Craig will leave office without a solution he believedvital to the long-term success of American agriculture.
Craig has been enormously popular with Idaho voters. In eight congressionalelections, his poorest showings were 54-46 percent victories in 1980 and1982. In 2002, he won by a sweeping 133,240-vote margin, carrying 65 percentof the vote. Absent this week's wreckage, most observers predicted Craigcould have cruised to re-election and surpassed Borah as the longest-servingIdahoan ever.
But in recent months, for the first time in his 33 years in office, LarryCraig revealed a conflicted mind. He said he wasn't sure he could stomach aninth campaign for national office.
"I'll tell you right now the politics of our world has changed," Craig toldthe Statesman on May 14, during an interview in which he denied anyhomosexual conduct, ever.
"It's all about self-destruction and destroying the individual based on hisor her presence politically than it is about issues," Craig said, blamingDemocrats and Republicans alike. "This personality thing has become very,very vicious."
Craig said he loved his job, but he missed life in Idaho, his wife, threechildren, nine grandchildren, and a lovely garden at his home in Eagle wherehe gets his hands dirty on weekends.
On Aug. 9, the day after his guilty plea was entered in Hennepin County,Minn., Craig told the Statesman he would reveal his plans for 2008 inmid-September. Even though a group of former staffers had started a "DraftCraig" committee and solicited postcards urging Craig to run, he stilldidn't know his mind. Standing at 9th and Bannock streets in Boise, near hisoffice, he shook his head and said he was neither sure where he wouldannounce his plans nor what he would say.
Perhaps that indecision was founded in his private knowledge of the guiltyplea he had mailed to Minnesota the week before. Craig said he handled thearrest quietly and alone in the hope of "making it go away."
Instead, he is departing having pushed the resignation of Attorney GeneralAlberto Gonzales and the dog-fighting conviction of NFL star Michael Vickoff the front pages. More tellingly, Craig became what no successfulpolitician can be -- the butt of mean-spirited jokes on Leno and Letterman.
Craig's resignation is a sad finale. But his stepping down doesn't erase thefact he realized his youthful dream and had lasting influence on publicpolicy in Idaho and the nation.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438