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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2007

Not looking good for Craig

If you read through the transcript of Sen. Larry Craig’s Minnesota court hearing, one thing stands out: Judge Charles Porter doesn’t appear to be buying Craig’s attorneys’ arguments at all. That news was somewhat eclipsed on Wednesday by the Idaho senator’s startling announcement that afternoon that he was delaying his planned Sept. 30th resignation from the Senate indefinitely.

“I think it’s an uphill battle,” said University of Minnesota law professor Stephen Simon. “My guess is that Porter will not let them withdraw his plea.”

‘Technically not breaking his word’

Greg Smith, an Idaho pollster and political consultant who once served as Craig’s regional director, said, “He technically is not breaking his word, but it is kind of strange that Sept. 30 will have come and gone and he’s going to stay put. I’m a little surprised by that.”

Read my full story here.

Craig’s not quitting - at least not yet

Idaho Senator Larry Craig just issued the following statement, in response to today’s legal proceedings in Minnesota:

“Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name. The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea. For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

Craig hearing wraps up with no decision

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s hearing in a Minnesota courtroom has wrapped up after about 45 minutes of arguments from attorneys on both sides. At the close of the hearing, Judge Charles Porter indicated that he won’t have a decision until the end of next week at the earliest – which would be well after Craig’s self-imposed deadline of Sept. 30th, when Craig has said he’d resign from the Senate if he hadn’t been able to clear his name.

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, joined the prosecutors to give a brief statement to reporters after the hearing. Hogan said Craig knowingly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, and that prosecutors’ arguments showed there’s no legal basis for reversing the plea. “The defendant received due process under the law and had more than eight weeks … in which to consider his legal options,” Hogan said. “After careful consideration, the defendant calculatingly entered a plea of guilty.”

He added “We anticipate a positive ruling.”

Craig, who attended several Senate proceedings in Washington, D.C. while his attorneys were representing him in Minneapolis, is expected to have a statement later today.

Court process ‘in many respects irrelevant’

Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, who has observed Idaho Sen. Larry Craig since both were students at the University of Idaho in the 1960s, said this week that that the court hearing taking place in Minnesota today may not be what really matters. “In many respects this judicial procedure in Minnesota is irrelevant,” Weatherby said. “I don’t know that it has any major impact upon his political career. I think the damage has been done.”

LaRocco picks up general’s endorsement

General Wesley Clark, retired four-star general and former commander of allied forces in Kosovo, has endorsed Idaho’s Larry LaRocco for the U.S. Senate. Clark, who was briefly a Democratic candidate for president in 2004, said today, “Larry’s campaign of working in jobs all across Idaho has him listening to people in every corner of the state and walking the walk in their shoes. Larry was a great Congressman and will make a great senator for Idaho. I am proud to endorse him today for the U.S Senate.”

LaRocco is a former two-term Democratic congressman who’s seeking the Senate seat now held by GOP Sen. Larry Craig. In his endorsement, Clark said, “He can win this race. It is wide open.”

Craig: Wildfires cause global warming

For all those who’ve been talking about how climate change has contributed to more devastating wildfires – the topic of a Senate committee hearing yesterday – Idaho Sen. Larry Craig put out a press release late yesterday offering the opposite argument. “As a member of the committee, Craig took the opportunity to point out the apparent chicken-and-egg scenario at play – do wildfires cause climate change, or does climate change cause wildfires?” Craig’s press release said. Craig noted that large wildfires release lots of CO2, and called for more active forest management practices, including more logging, to prevent wildfire. “Wildfires in this country released the same amount of greenhouse gases as 12 million automobiles,” Craig said. “Preventing fires through active management is certainly more feasible and cost effective than asking 12 million people not to drive.”

Prosecutors: Craig ‘playing games’ with court system

Prosecutors in Minnesota say Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is seeking special treatment by trying to withdraw his guilty plea in a sex solicitation sting, and “playing games” with the state’s court system by first pleading guilty, then trying to withdraw the plea because of political fallout. The prosecution filed its arguments today in advance of Wednesday’s court hearing on Craig’s bid to withdraw his guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges. Read our full story here.

Here’s a link to the 42-page argument filed today by the prosecution, and here’s one to the supporting documents, which run 33 pages long.

Craig prosecutors go into detail

Not only did Minnesota prosecutors file objections yesterday to the ACLU of Minnesota’s brief in support of Sen. Larry Craig, they also went into great detail about the restroom sex solicitation sting that ensnared the senator and exactly what he’s accused of doing. The sting, which nabbed about 40 men in a four-month period in an airport men’s room, included plenty of other cases where suspects followed “the very same pattern of conduct,” then engaged in sex acts on the spot, the prosecutors wrote. Because of that, they contended, and because the venue was a busy international airport, the ACLU’s argument that signals under a stall wall could be an invitation for private sex elsewhere, and thus constitutionally protected, are “simply absurd.”

“The defendant invaded the sanctity of the officer’s bathroom stall, first by repeatedly staring into the stall, second by moving his foot over in a controlled and deliberate manner until it was on and touching the officer’s foot within the officer’s stall, and third by stroking his hand from front to back along the stall divider three times with increasingly greater amounts of the defendant’s hand being exposed on the officer’s side of the stall divider with each swipe,” Prosecutor Christopher P. Renz wrote. Those actions in themselves constitute disorderly conduct, he argued. After similar actions, others observed by officers as part of the sting exposed themselves under the stall wall, looked under the wall, or engaged in masturbation, he wrote.

The judge had already ruled in favor of allowing the ACLU’s “friend of the court” brief, which contends the entire sting was unconstitutional. The prosecutors are now asking him to strike the brief from the record. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review, and see the full court document here.

Homeowner’s exemption headed up

For 2008, Idaho’s maximum homeowner’s exemption from property taxes will rise to $100,938, from the current $89,325, the state Tax Commission announced today. The homeowner’s exemption exempts from tax 50 percent of the value of a homeowner’s primary residence, up to a maximum set by law. That maximum was fixed at $50,000 from 1983 to 2006, when lawmakers voted to raise it to $75,000 and have future automatic increases tied to the price of housing in Idaho.

The Idaho Housing Price Index shows Idaho’s average single-family home cost has gone up another 8.42 percent in the past year. With the hike in the exemption, it’ll go up to what many argued the figure should have been back in 2006 when the law was changed – just based on inflation since 1983, when the number was first fixed at $50,000. So if your home is now worth more than $201,876, even with the increase next year, your homeowner’s exemption still will be less than the original 50 percent.

Minnesota judge OKs ACLU brief

District Judge Charles Porter in Hennepin County, Minnesota, has ruled in favor of allowing the ACLU of Minnesota’s arguments to be considered in the case of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. The ACLU argues that the restroom sex solicitation sting that ensnared Craig at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport was unconstitutional. Here’s a link to the judge’s order.

Craig is back in D.C.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is back at work in Washington, D.C. today, for the first time since news broke in late August of his June arrest and guilty plea in a bathroom sex solicitation sting. “He needed to be back there to represent Idaho’s interests and to work on the transition, and also to meet with his legal team,” said Craig’s spokesman, Sid Smith. “I don’t know what his schedule is. … He may go to the floor. But he doesn’t have set plans.” Though Craig has announced his intent to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30, he hasn’t formalized that with a letter to the governor, and he’s left the door open to possibly finishing out his term if he can clear his name by the 30th. Craig faces a court hearing a week from tomorrow in Minnesota in his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea.

Craig’s defense team ‘welcomes’ ACLU arguments

Sen. Larry Craig’s lead attorney, Billy Martin, has issued this statement on behalf of his defense team:

“We welcome the ACLU’s filing today and their involvement in this case. We have argued to the court that the facts which Senator Craig admits happened on that day do not constitute a crime. The ACLU’s legal position is that Senator Craig’s arrest may have violated his Constitutional rights. Furthermore, the ACLU’s position is the sting conducted by the airport police may also violate the protection the United States Constitution provides all of us. We are hopeful the court will agree with the legal arguments and the facts that we have presented and allow Senator Craig to withdraw the guilty plea on September 26th.”

SCHIP funding close to expiring

With funding for the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, due to expire at the end of September if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it, calls have been coming from around the state – including from GOP Gov. Butch Otter – for Idaho’s congressional delegation to help save the program. But the differing reauthorization bills that passed each house in early August have drawn sharp criticism from Idaho’s all-Republican delegation. Both bills include large increases in the federal 39-cent-per-pack cigarette tax to fund the SCHIP expansion – the Senate bill increases that tax by 61 cents a pack and the House bill by 45 cents. The House bill also trims some Medicare programs for the elderly to fund the expansions to SCHIP.

Sen. Larry Craig, shortly before the Aug. 2 vote to pass the Senate version of the bill, called the measure “a massive expansion of SCHIP, I suspect in an effort to move the United States ever closer to a government-run health care system.”

Taryn Magrini, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Community Action Network, which organized a rally in Boise for SCHIP on Friday, said: “It is a big increase, but it is my belief that all children should have access to health care. If it’s a cigarette tax, we’ll take a cigarette tax. I just want my kids covered.” After the rally, action network members and children dressed in chocolate chip cookie costumes visited Reps. Sali and Simpson’s offices to offer staffers chocolate chip cookies and call on them to be “CHIP champs” and support reauthorization.

In late August, Otter, also a Republican, joined health care officials, business people and hospital officials in Salmon, Idaho, at a press conference calling on Congress to reauthorize and adequately fund SCHIP, which now covers about 19,000 Idaho children. A recent state-funded study estimated that 10 percent of Idaho children lack any health insurance. Read my full article here.

And a partridge in a pear tree

OK, this is just weird. Gov. Butch Otter today released a list as long as my arm of names of people “who so far have expressed an interest in being appointed to the U.S. Senate if a vacancy occurs with the resignation of Senator Larry Craig.” He said it didn’t include anyone who told him not to release their name; it didn’t include those suggested by others but who had not yet themselves told the governor they’re interested; and it didn’t include “the few individuals from outside Idaho who indicated they would be willing to move here if appointed.”

Here’s who it does include:

State Representative Scott Bedke of Oakley, Bob Cox of Boise, Steve Coyle of Star, Lawrence Gardner of Meridian, Ben Jepson of Nampa, State Senator Mike Jorgensen of Coeur d’Alene, Thomas Kim of Island Park, David Leroy of Boise, State Representative Russ Mathews of Idaho Falls, State Senator John McGee of Caldwell, Christopher Patterson of Coeur d’Alene, Blaine Price of Malad, Steven Ranstrom of Burley, Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, State Representative Ken Roberts of Donnelly, State Senator Gary Schroeder of Moscow, Larry T. Smith of Nampa, Sheila Sorensen of Boise, Tom Stevenson of Gooding, Robert Vasquez of Canyon County, Jim Waite of Idaho Falls, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Dane Watkins of Idaho Falls, Jay Wilde of Glenns Ferry.

That’s everyone the governor has named so far – including those he went to and asked if they’d be interested – along with a bunch more. Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said, “If they’re on this list he’s considering them.”

Just 78 seats for spectators

When Idaho Sen. Larry Craig goes to court in Minnesota to try to clear his name on Sept. 26, strict rules will be in effect, including the designation of just 78 seats for spectators, including media. Also, the doors will be closed before the hearing starts, and anyone who’s left their seat will lose it if they don’t get back in before the door closes. Judge Charles A. Porter Jr. has issued an order laying out the rules for the high-profile hearing, including this warning: “Conversations or gestures that might disrupt the hearing or distract the court, counsel or the defendant, are prohibited.”

Could he do it?

Here’s the situation: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is out of state this week, vacationing in Texas, and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is acting governor. This poses the theoretical question: Could Risch make some key appointments while Otter is gone?

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout retired on Aug. 31st, so the court has technically had a vacancy ever since. Otter already interviewed all four finalists, but has yet to announce his pick. However, Trout has graciously continued to serve until her replacement is named – so her retirement, so far, has looked a lot like her previous full-time job.

Risch was acting governor yesterday and is today, but Otter will be back in the state on Thursday for the funeral of Congressman Mike Simpson’s brother, Steve, in Blackfoot. It seems unlikely that Risch would act, since he wasn’t in on the interviews of the finalists for the justice seats, and also because he might not want to antagonize the governor while he’s waiting for word from him on yet another appointment – whether Risch or someone else will be named to the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Larry Craig, assuming that Craig resigns as expected.

Which brings up another theoretical question: Could Risch skip the suspense and just appoint himself to the U.S. Senate today? It’s been done before. In 1945, Idaho Gov. Charles Gossett resigned as governor and had his lieutenant governor appoint him to the U.S. Senate. But the move did him little good. As reported in Randy Stapilus’ book “Paradox Politics,” “Voters rebelled at his self-appointment to the Senate and ousted him in the Democratic primary.” That was the end of Gossett’s once-promising political career.

Gossett didn’t have to take the step of resigning first. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “Oh, no, governors can appoint themselves. I don’t see any prohibition on that.”

But there’s another catch: For a governor to appoint a U.S. senator, the previous senator would have to have either died in office, or submitted a letter to the governor tendering his or her resignation. Though Craig has announced his intent to resign, he hasn’t yet taken that step. Said Ysursa, “There’s no vacancy yet.”

Craig replaced ‘temporarily’ as ranking member of Vets Affairs

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr has been named the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee – “temporarily” replacing Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in that post. Burr served five terms in the House before he was elected to the Senate in 2004. “I appreciate the confidence my Senate colleagues have expressed in me today,” Burr said.

Jorgenson: ‘I’d be delighted’

State Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said it was news to him when the governor added him to his short list today to replace U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, but said, “I think it’d be great if somebody from northern Idaho were named to do that. I’m certainly proud, I’m honored, I’m flattered, and if that’s what the governor asked me to do, I’d be delighted.”

Jorgenson said he had an inquiry from the governor’s office in the last few days, asking if he’d be willing to consider the post, and he said yes. “I’d consider anything the governor wants me to do,” Jorgenson said by phone from Arkansas, where he’s traveling today on business. “I never thought of anything like this. If asked to serve, I’ll do it.”

Not getting the best of reviews

Sen. Larry Craig’s legal arguments in Minnesota don’t appear to be playing too well in Idaho. “I don’t know how many people are impressed with the ‘Statesman made me do it’ defense, and how many people are concerned about the judgment the senator used in pleading guilty to these charges,” said Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University. “With the twists and turns of this story, who knows what the late-night comedians will make of this.”

Weatherby noted, “There have been politicians who have successfully bashed the media and gained some support from it. I’m not sure in this particular case that it’s quite as effective, particularly when it’s asserted here that he feels that the story was baseless.” If so, Weatherby said, “Then what is he afraid of?

Just how scary is the Idaho Statesman?

In view of Sen. Craig’s legal arguments about the “panic”, “fear” and “intense anxiety” he experienced because of an Idaho Statesman investigation, it seems fair to ponder just how scary the Idaho Statesman really is. First, there’s the newspaper’s slogan, “The Treasure Valley’s Best-Read Newspaper – since 1864.” If that’s not frightening enough, there’s the fact that the paper employs reporters, editors and photographers, and even a political columnist. (Disclosure here: I worked at the Statesman as a reporter and editor for five years before joining The Spokesman-Review 16 years ago.) The Boise daily, owned by the McClatchy newspaper chain, has a Doonesbury cartoon today that makes reference to the Craig scandal, but it’s on the editorial page. Basically, the Statesman is a newspaper – some consider that scary enough. The headline today on its editorial page is this: “Teen cancer survivor fights for awareness.”

Craig’s motion: He panicked over newspaper investigation

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has filed a 39-page motion to withdraw his guilty plea in Minnesota to misdemeanor charges stemming from a restroom sex solicitation sting, and is requesting that the court hear oral arguments on the motion. Prominent in Craig’s motion is his concern over the Idaho Statesman newspaper’s months-long investigation into charges raised last year by a blogger that Craig had engaged in homosexual sex. The paper hadn’t published anything as a result of the investigation. Then, the motion details, Craig was arrested in a men’s room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

“Despite Sen. Craig’s denial of any inappropriate behavior, he was panicked that such allegations would be made public and that they would provide The Idaho Statesman with an excuse to publish its baseless article. While in this state of intense anxiety, Senator Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer; namely that if he were to submit to an interview and plead guilty, then none of the officer’s allegations would be made public.”

The motion, filed in Hennepin County District Court in Minnesota, says “it would be manifestly unjust not to allow his guilty plea, entered in a state of fear, to be withdrawn.”

Click here to read the full text of Craig’s motion.

Guv adds youngest senator to his list

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has added a name to his short list of candidates to replace Sen. Larry Craig – state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, the state Senate’s youngest member. McGee, 34, is a second-term state senator and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Otter offered no reason for adding McGee to a list that the governor’s office said now also includes Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, former state Sen. Dane Watkins, and former Lt. Gov. David Leroy.

Otter also said he’s decided against naming a “placeholder” for the Senate seat, and then letting those who want the position permanently duke it out in the next election. Advice from 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo played into that decision, said Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian. “He gave it a hard look, but I think in the end he decided it wasn’t the most prudent way to go,” Hanian said. The reason: The need to build up seniority for Idaho’s next senator in order to eventually secure key committee assignments.

That would seem to eliminate Leroy, who said yesterday he’d consider an interim appointment but plans to support Risch for Senate in the 2008 election.

Simpson: ‘Makes you wonder’ about GOP

Strong words from 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, in the latest edition of “The Hill,” a weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Larry Craig brouhaha. In the article, Simpson lashed out at Senate Republican leaders who quickly turned on Craig and pressured him to step down in the wake of a sex-solicitation scandal. “I hope I never stub my toe and they throw me under the bus,” Simpson said of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and other Republican leaders. “It kind of makes you wonder what party you want to be a member of.” Click here to see the full article.

Talking about the Craig case

Tonight, I’ll be appearing on Idaho Public TV’s “Dialogue” program, along with Associated Press reporter John Miller, political scientist Jim Weatherby, University of Idaho journalism prof Kenton Bird and host Joan Cartan-Hansen, to discuss the political implications of the Larry Craig case, including the senior senator’s arrest and guilty plea in a sex-solicitation sting, his resignation announcement, and the political ripples the case has sent throughout Idaho’s political establishment and the state and nation. We’ll be taking your calls live. The show airs at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 7:30 Pacific time, and viewers can call in toll-free with their questions at (800) 973-9800. The program will repeat, without live questions, on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Mountain time, 4:30 Pacific time. In addition to TV, the program will be broadcast online at idahoptv.org.

Why Simpson’s off the list

Idaho 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson told the AP’s John Miller in a telephone interview from D.C. today that he concluded it’d be better for Idaho if he stayed in the House, rather than a possible move to the Senate to replace Larry Craig. “Frankly, Butch and I had talked last week in general terms,” Simpson told Miller. “We really came to the conclusion, I don’t think it’s best for Idaho for me to be leaving the House right now. In a state like Idaho, having just two senators and two members of Congress, having a seat at the appropriations table is vitally important.”

Simpson also told the AP reporter, “It would be foolish to just name somebody to just serve out the next year. … You want to name somebody who is going to run again and build up seniority to get into some of these key positions.”

Will he or won’t he?

From what Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday, it sounded like Sen. Larry Craig was narrowing the circumstances under which he’d resign from the Senate, with McConnell reporting that Craig would stay in if he can just get his Minnesota guilty plea overturned by Sept. 30th. That’s different from what Craig’s office has been saying for the past two days, which is that Craig may not resign if he can resolve both his ethics case and his criminal case in Minnesota by that date.

“It is a fluid situation,” said Craig’s spokesman in Boise, Sid Smith. Smith said what he’s heard from Craig is that the senator would like to clear up both matters, and that even if he does so by Sept. 30th, he still might resign. Other factors playing into his decision include moves by other members of the Senate and public opinion in Idaho. “I think most importantly, even if they were resolved favorably, if the people of Idaho decide that they don’t want Larry there, he’s not going to continue to serve against the will of the people,” Smith said. “Most likely, he’s going to take that into strong consideration.” Asked how the senator would gauge that, Smith said, “For the last several days, we have been getting predominantly calls of support around the state from Idahoans. And by that I mean at all of our state offices. And, you know, if that were to change, we’d take a serious look at that. It is a fluid situation and we’re continuing to re-evaluate that almost continuously.”

Here are links to our coverage in today’s paper, my story on the developments with the ethics committee and my report on Gov. Butch Otter’s suggestion that he may pick a “placeholder” to replace Craig.

Ethics committee’s first response not promising for Craig

Sen. Larry Craig’s push to get the Senate Ethics Committee to dismiss an investigation of his case appeared to suffer a setback late today, when the committee issued a letter to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell that, while still noting that the case is under review, appeared to undercut Craig’s main argument for dismissal. Craig has contended that his arrest and guilty plea in an airport restroom sex-solicitation sting were unrelated to his duties in Congress, and therefore didn’t fall under the Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction.

Citing the Senate Ethics Manual, the committee noted that it “may discipline a member for any misconduct, including conduct or activity which does not directly relate to official duties, when such conduct unfavorably reflects on the institution as a whole.”

The bipartisan committee’s heads, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, also suggested in the letter that the panel will drop the investigation if Craig resigns. “In past matters the committee has closed inquiries where the subject of the inquiry has resigned or otherwise concluded his or her Senate service. On September 1, 2007, Senator Craig announced his intent to resign from the Senate, effective September 30,” the two senators wrote.

Craig was unhappy with the response, and said in a statement, “It is my intent to fight the case before the Ethics Committee while I am a sitting senator. I would prefer to have that case resolved on its merits.” He also noted that the letter didn’t address his attorney’s arguments that pursuing his case would violate 200-plus years of precedent. Click here to read the committee’s letter to McConnell.

More grist for speculation

If you’re interested in the question of who might replace Larry Craig as Idaho’s next U.S. senator, check out this transcript of Gov. Otter’s conversation with reporters this morning. In it, Otter throws out two new names – former Idaho Attorney General and Lt. Gov. David Leroy, and former state lawmaker Dane Watkins – and offers a possible argument for why he shouldn’t appoint either of them or current Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, and should turn to a “placeholder” instead.

Craig’s lawyer: Don’t ‘open that floodgate’

Stan Brand, the attorney representing Sen. Larry Craig in the Senate ethics investigation, has filed a letter with the Senate Ethics Committee seeking to have the case thrown out. Brand told The Spokesman-Review today, “In the 220 recorded years of history, the Senate has never disciplined someone for misdemeanor conduct not arising from their official duties, period. I don’t know how else to say that. There’s a good reason for that, I think, and that is, that’s just not something the Senate wants to get into. It doesn’t view it as serious enough, and not as implicating the office in a way that would motivate them to take a look at those types of cases, and so they don’t.”

Brand said he’s sure other senators have misdemeanors on their records, “and I’m sure there are more who will in the future – and that’s why I don’t think the committee has wanted to open that floodgate.”

Craig, of course, pled guilty to misdemeanor charges as part of a restroom sex-solicitation sting at the Minneapolis airport. After news reports came out, Craig said he’d done nothing wrong and said the guilty plea was a mistake. Police reports from the incident include a note that at one point, Craig handed his U.S. Senate business card to the arresting officer, and asked him, “What do you think about that?”

Brand said, “That’s who he is – that’s like identifying yourself. I don’t see why that’s a problem. He couldn’t deny his status, his status would be evident from a number of ways that he would identify himself. That, by itself, I hardly think is a reason for (the Senate Ethics Committee) asserting jurisdiction over this case.”

Craig’s ‘word game’

Supporters who sympathized with Idaho Sen. Larry Craig as he announced his “intent to resign from the Senate” under pressure from national GOP leaders who pushed him to step down may be feeling misled today, political scientist Jim Weatherby says, at the news - backed up by Craig’s wrong-number voice mail message - that Craig word-smithed his Saturday announcement at the last minute by adding the word “intent” to leave the door open to staying in office. “I’m wondering now if a lot of that good feeling will dissipate as people discover that his so-called resignation statement wasn’t what it appeared to be,” Weatherby said. “A statement like that is more appropriate for a debate or the courtroom, it seems to me, than communicating with your constituents. … Some will continue to defend him, who will focus more on the harsh tactics of the GOP leadership, but others, I think, will be turned off by this latest word game.”

Craig’s message to wrong number

Roll Call, the Washington, D.C. newspaper that broke the story of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest and guilty plea in a restroom sex solicitation case, has obtained a voice mail message that Craig left at a wrong number Saturday shortly before his press conference saying he’d resign from the Senate effective Sept. 30. The message, apparently intended for Craig’s criminal defense attorney, Billy Martin, includes Craig saying he’ll say it’s his “intent” to resign, but that Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Arlen Specter was ready to come out in his defense. “This thing could take a new turn or a new shape, or has that potential,” Craig says in the message. Click here to listen.

Fires, fires everywhere

State Highway 55, the main route between Boise and McCall, closed to all traffic at 12:30 today, as an out-of-control wildfire sent rolling debris and falling trees onto the road. The route is closed from north of Horseshoe Bend to just south of Banks, and the problem spot is the long stretch where the road twists and turns along the Payette River, with a steep hillside rising up on one side and the river on the other. The fire is right up that steep hillside. The fire started yesterday at 5 p.m., and caused some pretty serious delays last night when the usual traffic crush hit at the end of the holiday weekend.

It seems that the fire season is hitting hardest at some of Idaho’s most popular tourist areas as the summer season closes, with Sun Valley hard-hit last week by a wildfire that canceled holiday weekend events, forced evacuations of more than 2,000 homes in the Ketchum area, and prompted the Sun Valley ski resort to turn on its snowmaking guns to act as a sprinkler system to keep back the flames on the mountain.

While that blaze, the Castle Rock fire, was fully contained today at just over 48,000 acres, the Grey’s Creek fire is burning not far from Tamarack Resort and sending smoke and ash into Cascade and McCall; the Cascade Complex fire 16 miles northeast of Cascade has burned 258,000 acres and is just 30 percent contained; and the East Zone Complex, 25 miles northeast of McCall, has burned 228,500 acres and is just 10 percent contained. Major wildfires also are burning near Challis, Elk City, Murphy, Oakley and more. Structures are threatened in many of the fires and evacuations are in effect. Popular whitewater rafting stretches of the Main Salmon and Middle Fork of the Salmon River were closed for two weeks due to fires, though most reopened on Saturday.

Overall, Idaho’s still tied with Montana for the most major wildfires in the nation, with 13. But Idaho’s nearly 900,000 acres of wildfires far outstrips any other state.

McGreevey: ‘A prayer for Larry Craig’

Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who resigned from office in scandal and announced that he was gay, draws parallels between his own experience and that of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in this Washington Post article.

Craig hires attorney who represented Vick, Lewinsky

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has hired noted criminal defense attorney Billy Martin, of Southerland, Asbil & Brennan, to represent him in his legal issues with regard to his arrest and guilty plea in a restroom sex solicitation case. Martin also was the choice of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who pleaded guilty to dog fighting charges in a case that drew national outrage. Martin also represented former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the parents of murdered government intern Chandra Levy.

Craig also announced that he’s hired Stan Brand with Brand Law Group to handle issues pertaining to his Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

History indicates a speedy replacement

There’s historical precedent in Idaho for a governor appointing a replacement for a U.S. senator who resigns – and doing it quickly. In 1921, John F. Nugent, a Democrat, resigned from his Senate seat. The very next day, Gov. D.W. Davis appointed Frank Gooding, who like Davis was a Republican. You can read my full story here about the history in today’s Spokesman-Review.

But Jon Hanian, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, said today that Otter is in no rush to name Craig’s replacement. Since Craig’s resignation isn’t effective until Sept. 30, he has some time. “Certainly not this Labor Day weekend,” Hanian said. “I don’t expect that’s going to happen for a while.”

Who was there, who wasn’t

Among Idaho’s four-member congressional delegation, only Rep. Bill Sali was standing behind Sen. Larry Craig as he made his resignation announcement. Craig praised Sali, who he said “never wavered” in supporting him. Both Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson issued supportive statements. Asked where Crapo was, his press secretary, Lindsay Nothern, said Crapo’s daughter was getting married this morning in Washington, D.C.

Crapo: ‘Courage and strength in tough decision’

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has put out a lengthy statement today praising Sen. Larry Craig, while also praising his decision to resign from the U.S. Senate. “He has demonstrated his courage and strength in making this tough decision,” Crapo wrote. “… It is my hope that as history judges Sen. Craig, that his successes, accomplishments and strong leadership for Idaho in Congress are taken in totality, and that those he served so admirably in Congress for five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and three terms in the U.S. Senate will recall the full measure of the man.” Click here to read Crapo’s full statement.

Craig sends out Q & A

He took no questions at his press conference, but Sen. Larry Craig’s staff promised to send out a question-and-answer e-mail to answer further questions about the senator’s announcement. Here it is:

Q: Why September 30?
A: Thousands of Idahoans come to me every year for assistance in resolving issues with federal agencies, like obtaining passports, resolving Social Security or pension problems, and I want to make sure as many of these are resolved as possible. What can’t be resolved will be transferred to my successor in an orderly way. I want to make as smooth a transition as possible for Idaho.
Q: Will you return to Washington, D.C.? When?
A: That has not been determined.
Q: Will you continue to vote and attend hearings during this time?
A: See above.
Q: Who is your legal counsel?
A: Stan Brand with Brand Law Group has been retained to handle issues pertaining to the Senate Ethics Committee investigation: (202)662-9700. Billy Martin with Southerland, Asbil & Brennan has been retained to handle all other legal affairs: (202) 383-0100.
Q: Have you filed papers in Minnesota to begin your legal defense?
A: You’ll have to speak with Mr. Martin or Mr. Brand on any questions pertaining to legal affairs.
Q: Have you spoken with Governor Otter about a replacement?
A: No.
Q: Have you had any conversations with Lieutenant Governor Risch?
A: No.

Tracy: ‘State is going to miss him’

Mike Tracy was Sen. Larry Craig’s communications director for 10 years. Now a Boise consultant, Tracy was saddened as he attended Craig’s announcement today, and heard the news that Craig will resign from the Senate after 27 years of service in the U.S. House and Senate. “I think he was a great public servant, and he did, I think, what he had to do today,” Tracy said. “He is, in my mind, and in my memory will still be one of the greatest members we’ve ever had in Congress – he’s done so much for people. I think the state is going to miss him dearly.”

Patano: Craig staff will ‘do what we’ve always done’

Sandy Patano, Sen. Larry Craig’s top staffer in Idaho, watched her boss announce his resignation this morning, then faced the cameras herself. “Larry Craig is one of the most honorable men I’ve ever known,” Patano said. “I’ve worked for him for 25 years. He has never asked me to cover up anything in my entire career. He has always been about truth and honesty and doing what is just.” Asked what Craig’s staffers will do in the coming 30-day transition period, Patano said they’ll continue “to do what we’ve always done, and what he’s always done – work for Idaho.”

Watch Craig announcement live

Any number of news outlets are airing Sen. Larry Craig’s press conference this morning live, starting at 10:30 a.m. Boise time, 9:30 Pacific time. Here’s a link to one, KTVB-TV in Boise. To watch, click here.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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