Larry Craig

Our View: Craig must resign

Sen. Larry Craig needs to resign.

For the good of a state he loves, a state he has served for more than a quarter century.

It is difficult and unpleasant to call on Idaho’s senior senator to end a career in public service. We don’t do this casually, or unanimously.

However, we cannot abide an elected official who didn’t disclose a lewd conduct arrest until the story broke 77 days later — a lie by omission and a violation of the public trust. We cannot believe Craig can effectively serve Idaho, under the shadow of his guilty plea on a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. We cannot afford, as a state with but four congressional representatives, to have a senator who merely provides fodder for bloggers and late-night talk show hosts.

Worse still, Craig’s credibility has eroded within the power structure in Washington, D.C. Senate Republican leadership has called for an Ethics Committee review of the case, and at leadership’s request, Craig Wednesday agreed to give up his senior role on several Senate committees. Several congressional Republicans — including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota — say Craig should resign. The White House is “disappointed in the matter,” spokesman Scott Stanzel said Wednesday.This climate awaits Craig, should he return to Capitol Hill after the August recess and serve out the remaining 16 months of his term. Craig himself must realize that his image is tarnished. As news of his arrest finally broke Monday, Craig stepped down as U.S. Senate chairman for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Said Romney campaign spokesman Matt Rhoades: “(Craig) did not want to be a distraction and we accept his decision.”

Precisely. And Craig will have a similar distracting effect on his legislative work. He will no longer be a spokesman for his causes, from immigration reform to seeking federal dollars for Idaho projects. He will always be seen — even if no one is so coarse as to say it — as that senator involved in that weird arrest at an airport restroom renowned as a pickup spot for anonymous sex.

That is an incomplete caricature. Perceptions often are.

Yet the Craig who read a brief public statement Tuesday seemed oblivious to how he’s being perceived. Unconvincingly, Craig spoke about completing policy goals and remaining “an effective leader for Idaho.” Inexplicably, he left open the possibility of seeking a fourth Senate term in 2008.

Craig may be one of the Senate’s more senior Republicans, but he is contemplating a future that just doesn’t exist. The longer it takes for him to face the facts, the longer the interests of Idaho are marginalized.

On Tuesday, Craig most needed to talk not about the future, but to instead address his June 11 arrest and his Aug. 8 guilty plea. He offered Idahoans few answers and no reason to provide him the benefit of the doubt. He admitted he should have discussed his arrest with friends and family, although he didn’t say whether his staff or his constituents deserved to know. He said he “was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else,” but said little about the events leading to his arrest. He again said he made a mistake by pleading guilty to a reduced charge without seeking a lawyer’s advice — but said he has now hired an attorney.

Too little. Too late. Much like the whole of his statement Tuesday.

Two days ago, we urged Idahoans not to rush to judgment, and give Craig a chance to explain himself. Unfortunately, we have seen and heard enough. Judging from his performance Tuesday, Craig seems more interested in hunkering down, operating from a defensive state of denial. This is his prerogative. But he should not compromise Idaho interests in the process.

If Craig wishes to keep his secrets, he may do so as a former U.S. senator.

In 2002, the Statesman enthusiastically endorsed Craig’s re-election, hailing him as an influential leader who is “hitting his stride as a senator.” His stunning misstep has now cost him his viability and his credibility.

He must now step aside.