Larry Craig

The party that Craig built

At a Republican gathering last year, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig asked anyone who ever worked for his congressional offices or for his campaigns to stand.

Some three-fourths of the people in the room took to their feet.

He turned to the other top GOP officials there and smiled. He said he just wanted to remind them who really ran the Republican Party.

He could have done the same thing in just about any GOP confab in the state.

"The Idaho Republican Party is largely built on staffers and former staffers of Sen. Craig," said former state controller and one-time congressional candidate Keith Johnson. "It's his party."

Former U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, who spent 24 years in Congress, knows a little something about party building. He credits Clan Craig for helping keep the GOP so dominant.

"He has been a very popular senator, he's had a good and loyal staff and good and loyal supporters," said McClure. "These are the foot soldiers out there."

vast influence

Craig's direct influence runs deep in Republican circles.

One former staffer oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

Others are prominent lobbyists and consultants with influence in Boise and Washington, D.C.

Another started as one of his secretaries and became a leading voice in the state for natural resource industries.

Just as Craig was determined to put off his resignation for a month to give his staff a better chance to find new jobs, his staffers weren't going to let him make this announcement without their support and presence.

Mike Tracy, Ken Burgess and Toni Lawson were just a few of the former Craig staffers — all with influential jobs in Idaho politics — who filled the crowd at Craig's speech at the Boise Depot Saturday morning.

In 27 years, a lot of young up-and-comers received his tutelage.

Mark Rey staffed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources under Craig. Now he's an undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in charge of the Forest Service.

Pat Barclay started as a secretary in Craig's first term in the U.S. House and later ran his office in Lewiston. Now, she heads the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment. Her husband, John, also worked for Craig. Until he died in an ATV accident this summer, he was a prominent media and public relations specialist.

Craig's state director, Sandy Patano. is one of the leading Republicans in North Idaho. Mike Mathews, Craig's Twin Falls liaison, is the No. 2 man in the state Republican Party's hierarchy.

His staffers in all parts of the state fill spots in local precincts and county party leadership.

Part of the reason: Craig put a premium on party loyalty.

Many congressional offices are adorned with scenic vistas and memorable spots in the lawmakers' home states.

But Idaho Democratic Party Chairman and former Congressman Richard Stallings remembers just one piece of art from Craig's office: a picture of an elephant.

respect in the legislature

Even in the Idaho Statehouse, where state lawmakers operate independently of the congressional delegation, Republicans often deferred to the man who started his career there in 1975.

"(Craig's resignation) is going to shake all the way through the state," said Meridian Republican Sen. Russ Fulcher said.

"People don't realize the influence he's had. Not just in D.C. but in our own Legislature."

Gregory Hahn: 377-6425