BOISE – Idaho’s senior senator, Larry Craig, will resign today, Republican officials said Friday.
Craig, who’s been under intense pressure to step down since news broke Monday that he’d pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges in a restroom-sex solicitation case, scheduled a press conference for this morning in Boise to make his announcement. Multiple GOP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the longtime senator will resign effective Sept. 30.
“It’s not a good way to end a career or try to keep one going – that’s the sad part about it,” said Northwest Nazarene University political scientist Steve Shaw. “He’s been a key player for Idaho. … It’s really a fall from grace.”
Craig has maintained that his actions were misconstrued and his guilty plea was a mistake, but the national GOP quickly turned against him. He had already been disavowed by the presidential candidate whose Idaho campaign he co-chaired, Mitt Romney, and called on to resign by Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
On Friday, news came out that the Republican National Committee had drafted a statement calling for Craig’s resignation a day earlier, and agreed not to issue it only when Craig agreed to resign on his own. Meanwhile, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told his hometown newspaper that Craig’s actions were “unforgivable,” and when President Bush was asked at the White House whether Craig should resign, he said nothing and walked off stage.
Shaw said, “I don’t know that the public is in much of a forgiving mood these days on these kinds of things.”
If Craig resigns, Gov. Butch Otter would name his replacement. Among the front-runners for the position are Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who already has said he would run for the Senate seat if Craig didn’t seek re-election, and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson.
Other possibilities include Craig’s top staffer in Idaho, Sandy Patano; former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne; retired Sen. Jim McClure; retired House Speaker Bruce Newcomb; and others.
Risch didn’t return calls Friday. Simpson’s press secretary, Nikki Watts, noted that Simpson recently decided not to leave his House seat to run for the Senate seat but said, “Idaho would need somebody who was able to go and hit the ground running, so to speak. He has been considering that.”
She added, “He knows the appropriations process like the back of his hand and we’re in the middle of appropriation bills, and he’d be able to work that issue very well. I know he has not ruled it out.”
But if Otter were to appoint Simpson, under Idaho law, a special election would have to be called to fill Simpson’s congressional seat. If he were to appoint Risch, Otter also would get to name Risch’s replacement as lieutenant governor.
Risch holds the distinction of being Idaho’s longest-serving state senator, and was renowned for his knowledge of legislative strategy and process when he served in the Statehouse. As lieutenant governor, he was appointed governor when then-Gov. Kempthorne became the U.S. secretary of the Interior, and served a dynamic seven months that won him widespread praise.
Risch then ran for re-election as lieutenant governor, and defeated former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco, a Democrat who is in the midst of campaigning for Craig’s Senate seat.
Shaw said Risch is “definitely the favored candidate – he beat LaRocco by almost 20 points. He would clearly be the favorite to help Republicans keep that seat.”
Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, said Friday, “We’ve made no promises or guarantees to anyone about this seat, because as of this hour, we are under the impression it is still occupied by Sen. Larry Craig.”
Craig, 62, has represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century and was up for re-election next year.
Republicans, worried about the scandal’s effect on next year’s election, suffered a further setback Friday when veteran Virginia Sen. John Warner announced he will retire rather than seek a sixth term. The contest for control of the next Senate was already tilted against Republicans, who must defend 22 of 34 seats on the ballot next year, before the Craig scandal and Warner’s announcement.
Sept. 30 is the end of the federal fiscal year, and there was lots of speculation Friday as to why Craig would choose that timing. Craig has six Idaho offices in addition to his staff in Washington, D.C.; the delay could allow staffers to seek new jobs if they’re not kept on by Craig’s successor.
“One of my students was supposed to start an internship with the senator today – he flew to D.C. today,” Jasper LiCalzi, a political science and economics professor at Albertson College of Idaho, said Friday. “This actually creates a kind of transition.”
But LiCalzi said Craig could be a “distraction” if he shows up Tuesday when the Senate goes back into session, with the nation still buzzing about the scandal.
“It’s sad, really, because people won’t remember all the other things he’s done,” LiCalzi said. “In just one week, the most powerful political figure in Idaho … has been ridiculed and completely torn down. It’s amazing how quickly things can happen.”