Craig's first idea was the right one

September 06, 2007 12:00 am

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig should resign, but not solely because of what he did inside a restroom at the Minneapolis airport on June 11.

It's what Craig has done in the ensuing three months, since an undercover police officer arrested him for allegedly soliciting sex in that restroom, that makes Craig unfit to continue his 27-year career of representing Idaho residents in Washington, D.C.

Craig made the right decision when he announced on Saturday that he intended to resign on Sept. 30.

But then on Tuesday, Sidney Smith, Craig's spokesman in Boise, told The Associated Press: "It's not such a foregone conclusion anymore that the only thing (Craig) could do was resign."

Smith said one reason Craig is reconsidering his plan to resign is a phone conversation Craig had last week with Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. According to Smith, Specter, who like Craig is a Republican, urged Craig to consider fighting the guilty plea. Smith also told The Associated Press that Craig is trying to clear his name with a Minnesota court.

Those statements seem a bit short on logic. If Craig, as he claims, was not trying to solicit sex from the undercover officer, then the senator should have insisted he was innocent and gone to trial rather than plead guilty, as he did on Aug. 1, to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Who is Craig supposed to "fight" in his campaign to reverse his guilty plea? Himself? Smith's statements would make sense had a jury or a judge convicted Craig. In either case the senator could have "fought" the conviction by filing an appeal.

But Craig alone pleaded guilty. He contends that's the only mistake he has made in connection with the airport incident. Only Craig knows why he pleaded guilty. Maybe he truly believes he is innocent but he hoped his constituents would never find out about the incident if he avoided a public trial. Maybe he knows he is guilty but, again, he hoped he could forestall publicity by pleading guilty. In a much less likely scenario, perhaps he just didn't realize that, having admitted his guilt, he couldn't change his mind a month later, after his career was in jeopardy, and take it all back.

Regardless of what motivated Craig, though, the situation involves a lapse in either his character or his judgment, or possibly both, that is serious enough to justify his resignation.

Craig's second-guessing about his intention to resign on Sept. 30 only weakens, rather than strengthens, the bond of trust he has forged with Idahoans over more than a quarter century of representing them.

Craig had a chance to fight — for his reputation and for his job. He made his choice about his reputation on Aug. 1, when he pleaded guilty. Then he made his choice about his job on Saturday, when he announced his intention to resign.

Craig's belated attempt to salvage his soiled reputation is his business.

But his job affects the more than 1.4 million Idaho residents he represents. Those people deserve a senator who can concentrate on their interests. Larry Craig, busy fighting his own guilty plea and a possible ethics investigation by his Republican colleagues in the Senate, can't give his constituents the attention they deserve.