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Commentaries and editorials

Craig Fallout: Idaho
Will Lose Millions, Influence

by John Miller, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 2007

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho stands to lose influence and millions of federal dollars now that the state's senior U.S. senator has lost committee leadership positions and faces increasing pressure from Republican leaders to resign following his arrest in a Minnesota airport restroom.

Republican Sen. Larry Craig has been dumped from leadership assignments on the Appropriations, Environment and Veterans Affairs committees.

Not everybody is lamenting his loss of clout, including environmentalists who have clashed with Craig on issues from endangered salmon to public land grazing.

Political experts compared the situation to 1995, when then-U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, was forced to resign after allegations that he'd sexually abused 10 women.

After Packwood's ouster, Oregon has struggled to recapture leadership posts that had made its delegation among the strongest in the country when it came to financial issues, said Ronald Tammen, director of the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. Craig has similarly lost much of the clout he earned during 17 years in the Senate. He sometimes boasted that he brought home $2.5 million a week to Idaho in the form of federal grants.

"The state (Oregon) lost an immeasurable amount of political influence in Washington D.C.," said Tammen, former chief of staff to Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis. "It's just now starting to build that up again."

Craig was arrested June 11 in a Minneapolis airport restroom after an undercover officer observed conduct that, the officer said, was "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct." Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Aug. 8.

After the incident became public Monday, Craig said he "overreacted and made a poor decision" to plead guilty - without an attorney - in hopes of making the incident go away. He said he was not involved in inappropriate conduct and is not gay, and during his arrest disputed the officer's version of events.

In his three terms in the Senate - Craig also spent a decade in the U.S. House until 1990 - he has pushed funding for rural schools and communities, co-authoring with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a bill that gave millions to rural areas in the West where timber-based economies had been undercut by reduced logging on U.S. Forest Service-managed territory.

He's also championed the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, including $40 million in 2005 to begin development of a new experimental nuclear reactor to produce electricity and hydrogen. In July, he argued in favor of more than $25 million in Idaho-related projects in an agriculture funding bill, including nearly $13 million to fight a worm afflicting eastern Idaho potato farmers.

With his removal from leadership posts, Craig has been marginalized on all these issues, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, who predicts Craig will quit within days, under pressure from national Republican leaders, including Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

"It will cost Idaho millions of dollars and lots of influence on policy," Sabato said, adding the scandal isn't likely to be forgotten soon. "Poor old Larry Craig has got years of this to go."

Also this summer, Craig has joined other Idaho leaders who demanded that the U.S. Department of Interior allow more livestock grazing, which he contends will reduce the danger of wildfires that have burned more than 1,000 square miles on the Idaho-Nevada border.

Craig's policies have angered environmentalists.

He attempted to force the Bonneville Power Administration, which manages dams along the Columbia River, to eliminate funding for an agency that counts young salmon crossing dams.

He's attached a rider to a pending federal spending bill to uphold a Snake River management plan that a federal judge has said is illegal because it doesn't protect endangered salmon.

"He's consistently made a nuisance of himself on every environmental issue since he's been there," said Janine Blaeloch of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project. "The legislation he's supported has left public lands policy in the Dark Ages."

Related Pages:
The Case for Breaching is Stronger than Ever by Editorial Board, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/22/7
Sen. Craig's Action Demonstrates Disdain by Jim Miller, Idaho Statesman, 8/12/7

John Miller, Associated Press
Craig Fallout: Idaho Will Lose Millions, Influence
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 2007

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