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Sen. Larry Craig Played to Plenty of Western Interests

The thousands of stories written about Idaho Sen. Larry Craig since news of his arrest in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport broke can be filed into a number of categories. There are plenty of who, what, where, when why stories, including the original muckraking by Capital Hill’s paper of record, Roll Call. Then there are the numerous political analysis stories: Republicans hit hard, can’t take another scandal type reporting.

There are the stories from the left calling Craig on his apparent hypocrisy for voting one way while acting another. And stories from the right calling on Craig to resign for his apparent hypocrisy for acting one way and voting another.

Then there is this gem from The Nation’s Washington correspondent John Nichols: “No one noticed he was there. No one will miss him.”

Nichols calls Craig “an otherwise forgettable hack who cruised out of the Senate without ever contributing a thing to the chamber or the country.”

But Nichols got it wrong.

Lots and lots of powerful people knew how to reach Craig and knew exactly the kind of stuff he could contribute.

“He understood important Idaho issues and how they affect other senators,” said Gregory Casey, a twice former Craig chief of staff and confidant of the now/soon to be deposed senator.

Casey, who last Saturday escorted Craig to the Boise Depot press conference where he “intended to” resign, said that Craig understood Western issues and was well placed to convince senators from other regions that those issues mattered.

But even Casey, who has backed Craig since this scandal broke August 28th, is now speaking in the past tense about Idaho’s senior senator.

“He was a work horse, not a show horse,” Casey said, ignoring a call from the New York Times while we chatted about how much he misses Boise.

Casey, a former Sergeant at Arms in the U.S. Senate who is originally from Idaho, runs the U.S. Business and Industry PAC, a conglomeration of corporate political action committees which he proudly describes as the “backroom political machinery for American business.”

One of his ideas is to sell workers – including many at America’s Fortune 100 companies – a pro-business political message through corporate Web sites.

These are the folks who had Larry Craig’s ear, and he worked tirelessly for them.

If you want to protect the 1872 mining law, if you are in the timber industry or if you feel hurt by a glut of computer chips on the Asian market, you could go to Larry, Casey said.

Casey told me that Craig had always intended to fight the charges in Minneapolis, ever since Roll Call broke the story last week. He echoed the senator’s criticism of Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey’s investigation into Craig’s sexuality.

“I know the kind of pressure – I was interviewed by Dan Popkey. I saw Dan Popkey interviewing people all over town,” Casey told me, adding that his former boss just panicked when he was arrested.

Craig told the Statesman in a recent interview that in 1982, when he preemptively issued a press release denying any involvement in the Capitol Hill page sex scandal, he had also panicked.

People who worked in Craig’s office over the years were well aware of the rumors about their boss. But several former Craig staffers told me they never saw him act in any but the most disciplined and upstanding manner.

“If you go and you work for an elected official all of a sudden everything that’s ever said or written about your boss is something you pay attention to,” said Nate Helm, who was Craig’s natural resources field coordinator until about three years ago.

Helm, now the director if Idaho’s wing of the hunting group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife said that his experience in Craig’s office got him where he is today.

“Working for Sen. Craig was the best thing that could ever happen for somebody with that kind of interest,” Helm told me. “I’m nothing without the Senator.”

Helm said that Craig’s position in the Senate with regards to appropriations was a major benefit to Idaho.

“When you’re in charge of the agenda and you’ve been there and you know the process – it helps,” he said.

Outside of Idaho and the Mountain West, Craig was seen as influential, but not necessarily on a national scale.

“He was certainly an influential senator,” said University of California Los Angeles political scientist Barbara Sinclair.

Sinclair said he was not widely known as a senator who took a big policy role, until the recent debate on immigration in which Craig took a controversial stance for a Republican and took a lot of heat for it.

“I was rather surprised at how quickly the Republican leadership in the Senate, I was going to say jumped on him… that may not be the right… It struck me as rather unseemly,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair had just returned from the annual American Political Science Association meeting in Chicago where between panels on Empire in Comparative Perspective and Beyond Florida 2000: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Issue of Vote Rigging, 7,000 political scientists from across the country snickered and guffawed at the fate of Idaho’s senior senator.

Sinclair, who has written extensively about the modern Senate, said a replacement for Craig will not have the same clout as the three term senator, but that the thing about the Senate is that every state has the same vote, whether Idaho or California.

“Seniority isn’t as important as it used to be but it’s still how you get up the ladder on committees,” she said.

The last time I interviewed Senator Craig, in late June sometime after his arrest, we talked about his nuanced view on immigration. It’s a view he came to after years of hard work and actual listening and learning, according to many people who were involved in the discussions.

Then we talked about sheep.

Sheep ranching, that is. Craig, a strong advocate for ranchers, often at the expense of the environment, restated his position that ranchers and industry should be the stewards of wild lands.

And if they are not, the West becomes, “a bit of a museum piece where Easterners can come and see it.”

The Nation did get one thing right however. The powerful resource extraction interests and industrial interests and nuclear interests that counted on Craig’s support have already moved on.

And Craig will be remembered not for his views or his votes, nor for keeping the west from becoming a museum. No, Craig will be remembered only for the House of Mirrors where he was arrested.

Or as Nichols put it, Former Sen. Larry Craig, R-Bathroom.

About Nathaniel Hoffman

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4 comments

  1. Craig’s disgrace of himself and his office has the collateral damage of diminishing the voice of the rural West in Congress. The West is the most urban of all areas of the U.S.: the highest percentage of the population lives in town in the West. Losing influence will hurt the West’s rural people more than anything that can happen in Congress. When the majority of the land, the Public Domain, is governed from Washington DC, getting heard from Idaho or any other Western state is difficult. And why should they care? The dead trees, the fires, are not in their back yard, not burning their property. The loss of resource jobs makes not a whit to a congressman whose steel mill is closing in Ohio or Alabama.

    So it is ok to hate Craig for what he did, because he has tossed his constituents’ needs, and their trust in him, away for a failed tryst in a toilet. That is the shame of it all. His dalliance came before the needs of the people paying his wages. Their investment in him, the time he had to gain influence and confidence in the Congress, was all for naught. Thrown away. Gone. Republican or Democrat, that is a huge breach of trust. Too bad that kind of poor judgement can’t be found out a whole lot sooner.

  2. I have to admit to being pretty naive, but I am at a total loss how touching someone’s shoe with yours under the bathroom stall can cause such a reaction. I certainly can understand how anyone who lives by his publicity would panic at the threat of being accused of what, soliciting by touching shoes? It appears teh first words spoken was when he was presented with an arrest warrant?
    I have to say that Republicans must be in better shape than one would have thought considering the results of the last election. I believe this is the 4th article on this site alone about this. Is the left that desperate? On the other hand maybe the 18% approval rating of the Dems is worrying them.

  3. Marion: The deal on Craig is that left alone, the anonymous gay toilet tryst deal gets out of hand. You stop at the State Rest Area, and take your grandkid by the hand, and walk into the men’s room and your grandkid tells you there are 4 legs in that stall, just because the little guys can sit back and peer at stuff because they are young, lithe and curious.

    Or, you unwittingly visit the men’s room not knowing the cult of gay anonymous sexual adventure meeting and acting place is that particular rest area, and you are made an obscene offer by a person assuming you are there for only his relief or enjoyment. If that happens a few times, then the cops get involved, and watch the place, make arrests like the one Craig plead to, and in some cases, to no avail. Oregon has shut down two rest areas, one on I-205 and one on OR 22, because the behavior was not stopable. The State closed them both. Shut them down. That was the only feasible alternative. This in a State that has only opened one new State Park in the last 30 years, which means we had a net loss. Selfish, narcissistic, entitled behavior that had a negative impact on society. A public toilet is not a bedroom. I don’t give a damn what you do in your bedroom, but what you do in a public toilet I do care about, and is my business.

    I know several law officers who have had the detail to check out public complaints about Craigish behavior. If you park backed in, that is a signal. If you light a cigarette and hold it a certain way, that was a signal. The people who are subscribing to anonymous sexual encounters have their own body language and signing. Or at least that is what the cops told me. They read them, and then follow the subjects and catch them doing whatever it is they do. Even after there was a gay web site warning that a bust was imminent. Again, according to the cops I know. The lure, the thrill, the drive, must be pretty strong. That it goes against the public norm for public behavior is not unreasonable. Craig was not detered by the possibility of arrest. He knew what the outcomes could be. He still acted out. C’est la vie.

  4. I’ve just got to say one thing: Queers have never hurt me. I’ve been raped by hets, never by a queer man or woman. I’m from a wild town that is queer friendly, and I’ve been to some wild places there and elsewhere. Queer parties are the good parties, where you meet interesting people and people don’t walk around with a stick up their ass and their jealous little wives giving you dirty looks because you talked to their husband. I mean I hate that crap – I hate most of the straights I meet and never got along with them for the most part. They think they have some legislated sanctity going on but most of them are miserable and their kids are too.——-

    I’ve never seen queers hit on people that are not in the scene. They watch you, and maybe you are a straight man hiding some desire you’ve been denying for many years, and you go to a place and you are thinking of cutting loose. Pity the poor person who hits on your conflicted soul. But my point is that I see them respecting you when you don’t want to do something with them much more than hets have in my life. How many of you women have gone on a date and had the “boy” get out of hand, to the point you thought you were going to have to scream or hit ’em on the head? Queers will apologize and move on. If Craig was into it, it didn’t make him a criminal. But the duplicity wasn’t good for you all – that’s what’s doing you in.