Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sen. Craig's way ? or else

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

Let's turn again to Sen. John McCain for further insight into why Washington "has become very corrupt" (his words on "Meet the Press," Dec. 4).

McCain, who trumps all other names as a 2008 presidential choice -- said this:

"We need lobbying reform. But the system here, where so much is done in the way of policy and money, in appropriations bills where line items are put in in secret, which nobody knows about or sees until after they're voted on, is the problem.

"So, therefore," the Arizona Republican continued, "someone who wants some money or a policy change hires a lobbyist who is well connected. They go to the appropriate subcommittee or committee, appropriations, and they write in the line item. That part has to be fixed, I think, as much as anything else."

How timely -- and how so like Idaho's senior Senator, Larry Craig.

Presumably acting again on instructions of the National Hydropower Association, a major financial donor to his political war chest, Craig inserted a single sentence in a spending bill to abolish a small federal agency that tracks the up-and-down fortunes of chinook salmon in the Columbia River basin.

Unless clearer heads that're untainted by the hydropower industry's blandishments remove it, the 16-word sentence will shut down the Fish Passage Center after 20 years of unquestioned service.

The problem with the center for Craig and his utility benefactors is (a) it doesn't count endangered salmon the way Craig and dam operators want -- that everything is peachy with salmon -- and (b) counts have such unassailable scientific and mathematical integrity as to make them dangerous to dam operators battling sentiment to remove dams affecting salmon survival.

Posing as an authority, Sen. Craig denounced the center's work as hokum -- "false science" and "data cloaked in advocacy." This sort of steamy rhetoric endears Craig to dam operators, who crowned him "legislator of the year." And why not honor so obedient a servant?

Craig's function as errand boy for the hydropower industry is nakedly obvious. The manager of the Portland-based fish center has never met Craig, never talked to Craig and has never been contacted by Craig's office for information. Craig presumably relies on "facts" from the dam industry.

An Idaho fisheries biologist, Don Chapman, fingered Craig, calling execution of the fish counters "wrongheaded and vindictive."

By Sen. McCain's definition, however, it's worse. Sen. Craig inserted a single sentence in a spending bill to carry out the wishes of industry lobbying, something McCain pegs as one reason why Washington "has become very corrupt."

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