November 1, 2007 in City

GOP downplays Curtis fallout

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington Republicans moved swiftly to cut off the scandal involving Rep. Richard Curtis of La Center, removing his name from the House GOP Web site within hours of his announced resignation.

A spokesman for the state Republican Party said Curtis’ political career was over, but discounted any long-term political effect for other party members. Curtis’ decision to resign stands in contrast to that of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, of Idaho, who announced plans to resign and then changed his mind as he tries to withdraw a conviction for soliciting sex in an airport restroom, Josh Kahn said.

“It’s not going to be in the public mind for long,” Kahn said. The Craig situation is “a textbook case of the thing you don’t do: You don’t drag it out.”

Curtis will be replaced with a Republican appointee before the session starts, and the party expects to hold the seat in the next election, so the make-up of the Legislature isn’t likely to change, he added.

The House Republican Caucus announced the resignation as Curtis’ letter was being sent to the governor.

Curtis, who was halfway through his second term representing parts of Clark and Cowlitz counties, sent Gov. Chris Gregoire his resignation “effective immediately” shortly before 1 p.m. He then issued a brief public statement attributing his resignation to “events that have recently come to light (that) have hurt a lot of people.”

“This has been damaging to my family, and I don’t want to subject them to any additional pain that might result from carrying out this matter under the scrutiny that comes with holding public office,” he said.

Gregoire, a Democrat, released her own statement an hour and a half later, saying she had received the letter, adding “I realize this is a very difficult time for the Curtis family and the La Center community.”

When she was in Spokane on Tuesday night for a town hall meeting, Gregoire declined to comment extensively on the Curtis scandal, saying she didn’t know many of the details. Told some of the details that were contained in police reports and posted on The Spokesman-Review’s Web site that evening, she replied, “He’ll have trouble serving.”

Curtis’ colleagues expressed shock at the details of the scandal, which involve allegations that the La Center representative who was on a legislative trip to Spokane had paid a part-time porn model to have sex, then told police he was the subject of an extortion plot. Other police reports allege Curtis dressed as a woman and engaged in oral sex at an adult bookstore.

State Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic, described Curtis as an intelligent man and an effective legislator and said he was “dumbfounded” by the reports.

“I’m sitting here in shock,” Sump said. “When we lose our moral compass, these are the things that can happen.”

He discounted any long-term political impact, saying Curtis’ problems show “the Republican Party is made up of human beings, the same way the Democrat Party is.”

But Republicans were hard-pressed to come up with a recent instance involving a Democrat that compares with a GOP string that includes Craig, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of Florida and former Spokane Mayor Jim West, all of whom have been embroiled in gay sex scandals.

State Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, mentioned U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., but then added Frank is openly gay and “at least he’s honest about the whole thing.”

Candidates of either party who espouse family values on the campaign trail then indulge in illicit sex are hypocrites, Ahern said.

“I just don’t get it,” Ahern said. “It really floors me.”

State GOP Chairman Luke Esser released a statement saying the resignation was the right decision for Curtis to make.

“It was clear he could no longer effectively represent either the Republican Party or his constituents,” Esser said.

Party regulars will now nominate a replacement, who will face election next year. Esser said he expected the party would hold the seat in a strong Republican district.

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