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Craig's Problems Have Mixed Implications For Oregon

Republicans Wednesday continued to distance themselves from Idaho Senator Larry Craig. The response to Craig's arrest on charges of improper conduct in an airport restroom has been loud. Senate Republicans leaders asked for an ethics investigation. And now, several Republican congressmen have called on Craig to resign. Ethan Lindsey reports that all the news — especially a resignation — could have a direct impact on many Oregonians.

No Democrat has won an Idaho Senate race since 1974.

So Democrats in the Northwest aren't overly optimistic about winning his seat, no matter what Senator Craig decides to do next, whether it's resign, seek reelection, or bow out of his 2008 reelection race.

Political analysts say the scandal around Craig doesn't seem to much change that political calculus.

But the news about Craig will change the policy math, says Pacific University political scientist Jim Moore.

All congressional members from across the Pacific Northwest — Democrat or Republican — lose the political capital of someone who shares their regional interests, Moore says.

Jim Moore: “The delegation sticks together and works together in terms of timber payments, also on issues dealing with the Bonneville Power Administration, what to do with Hanford. Those kinds of things. And Larry Craig has been a very important player in those issues. He will be weakened, and so the delegation will, in effect, lose his effective voice in some of those issues.”

Today, Craig temporarily stepped down from his powerful committee appointments, including the top GOP post on the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, and the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests.
Both those positions gave Craig a strong voice on key issues for residents from Idaho and the Northwest. Craig alluded to that in his press statement on Tuesday.

Larry Craig: “Over the years, I have accomplished a lot for Idaho, and I hope Idahoans will allow me to continue to do that. There are still goals I would like to accomplish, and I believe I still can be an effective leader for our state.”

Senator Gordon Smith, who is also up for reelection in 2008, declined interview requests, as did Senator Ron Wyden, and all five of the state's US House members.

Moore says the most pressing issue for Craig and the Northwest delegation, currently, is the so-called "county payments" program. It grants hundreds of millions of dollars a year to rural, formerly timber-dependent counties. And it's on the chopping block.

Oregon and Idaho are two of the biggest beneficiaries of that money. And Wyden and Craig coauthored the original bill that kept counties afloat.

Political analyst Jim Moore sees one twist. He says that if Craig resigns or does not seek reelection, his replacement will almost always act — and vote — with Republicans, like Craig.

But if Craig manages to ride out the storm, he'll have a harder time being as vocal or aggressive as before. Meaning, Moore says, he may be more willing to compromise with Democratic positions.

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