Larry Craig

Craig's decision startles Idahoans

MIDVALE — Dismissing the wishes of the bigwigs in Washington often scores points for politicians here in the reluctant stretch of the republic known as the state of Idaho.

Then came the un-resignation of Sen. Larry E. Craig.

"A lot of Republicans in Idaho think they need to sit down on a good shrink's couch right now," said Tracy Lotz, a vice chairman of the state Republican Party until last year. "We're in shock."

Unaccustomed to political relevance, Idaho has endured more than a month of political parody — and that was before Craig provided new material by saying he would stay in office, after all.

Some profess a respect for Craig for showing an indigenous "moxie" in telling off the national Republicans who tried to force him out, and some insist he has done nothing wrong. Yet it is also clear from interviews with people across the state that Craig has lost considerable support as he attempts to finish out his term.

Many people say his repeated revision of his plans to serve and not serve has served only himself and has ruined his credibility.

"He's using politics, and that's not really what his roots are," said Jim Warren, superintendent of the Midvale School District, where Craig, 62, attended a one-room schoolhouse until he was in the seventh grade. "People here really pride themselves on keeping their word."

The news broke on Aug. 27 that Craig had pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge related to an undercover sex sting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Sept. 1, under intense pressure from Senate Republican leaders worried about damage to the party, he announced that it was his "intent" to resign on Sept. 30.

But a few days later he suggested he might not resign if he were able to reverse his guilty plea in court. A judge ruled Thursday that Craig could not do that. A few hours after the ruling, the senator said he would stay in office anyway. For some, it was one reversal too many.

"I think he should do the respectful thing and just step down," said Maureen Flaherty, a Democrat who manages a restaurant in Boise. "He already pleaded guilty, and to take back your guilty plea for your own personal reasons, I don't know."

Yet while people stopped on the street in Downtown Boise were more likely to say the senator is an embarrassment who should have resigned, here in rural Midvale, people were more circumspect. Warren, the school superintendent, said people in Midvale were "disappointed" in Craig but also said he would be "forgiven" if he returned to his hometown.

Craig has made rural issues a top priority in the 27 years he has served in Congress, fighting for the timber industry and farmers. Members of his extended family have ranched in Midvale since the 1890s.

Warren said Craig's well-publicized troubles have been a topic of discussion among students, but mostly serve to confirm the cultural distance between this town of 200 and the rest of the world.

"It's the U.S. of the '50s," Warren, who has worked in the district for 28 years, said of Midvale. "We blame it all on outside influences."

Some say Craig has been persecuted enough for what they view as a minor offense compared to the transgressions of other politicians. If Craig can withstand the pressure, they say, let him stay in office, and just maybe he can be an effective senator again.

"He's done a lot of good for Idaho," said Rick Graham, who went to high school with Craig and whose family owns the Midvale Market, the main retail operation here, with an inventory that includes hunting rifles and Reese's Cups. "I'm going to trust his judgment on this."

And while top Republicans in the state may be surprised at Craig's reversal, virtually none of them had joined national Republican leaders who called for Craig to resign. On Friday, J. Kirk Sullivan, chairman of the state Republican Party, released a carefully phrased statement saying he was "confident Idaho's congressional delegation can continue to effectively represent the best interests of Idahoans in our nation's capitol."

Bryan Fischer, executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance and one of the few Republicans in the state to make an early call for Craig to resign, said he did not share that confidence.

"What Idaho families need is a senator who can be an unapologetic, vocal and visible leader on pro-family issues," he said. "And Senator Craig is simply not going to be able to do that for next 15 months."

Patti Murphy contributed from Boise.