A conversation with former Senator Larry Craig
Lost amid the well-covered events in Minneapolis almost five years ago is the fact that few politicians have been as successful as Larry Craig. He won all 11 of his elections, including the three that sent him to the Idaho Legislature in the 1970s. He represented Idaho in the U.S. Congress for 28 years — first in the House of Representatives, then for three terms in the Senate. Only the legendary Senator William Borah represented Idaho longer.
After retiring from the Senate in January 2009, he started a small lobbying firm, New West Strategies. He splits time between Washington, D.C. and Boise, where he and his wife of almost 30 years, Suzanne, own a home and where all three of their children and ten grandchildren are nearby.
I visited him at his office in the Watergate Building to ask about his post-Senate life.
Any regrets about your decision to retire from Congress?
No. I used to smoke, and for me leaving the Senate was like quitting smoking. Whenever I get a craving, I run over to the couch and tell myself that this too will pass. It wasn’t necessarily an easy decision, but my wife and I had decided together long ago that 2008 was the year I was going to retire, and anyone who knows us knows that was our plan.
Do you think you would have won again in 2008?
I think I would have won.
When you left the Senate, did you consider retiring altogether? Maybe moving someplace like Florida and just fishing and golfing?
No. I inherited my work ethic from my dad, who worked his whole life. It’s important to stay busy doing the things you think are productive. It’s healthy.
Was it difficult to adjust to the private sector?
In some ways, it was difficult. I was used to having a staff. Now I’m the guy who does the research. The whole time I was in Congress, I never had a computer on my desk. I did have a BlackBerry, but eventually when I got a computer I had to ask my wife how to email people. But I’ve become much more proficient and found it’s increasingly easy to use all the new technology we have.
How’s business? Has it been hard to find clients?
I had a lot of options when I left Congress. I had some handsome offers from larger firms, but I felt it would be a better fit for me to have a smaller practice. That’s not necessarily the easiest route to take. When you have significant experience in Congress, it’s assumed you’ll have clients come to you automatically. But that’s not the case. You have to hustle, and you always hustle. The funny thing is that those you expected to hire you, don’t hire you. You have to get out and work for it. I still have to cold call, and do maybe 15-20 of them a year. But I have a number of very good clients. I work largely on issues related to energy and the EPA and veterans’ groups.
Do you miss the Senate?
I miss the associations and friendships in the Senate, although when I’m [in Washington, D.C.] I still get to see many of my old friends and colleagues.
Did you feel betrayed by some of those colleagues in 2007?
I certainly found out quickly who my true friends were.
Is it hard not to be in the spotlight, or do you enjoy the privacy?
I don’t miss being in the spotlight. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy that part of being in Congress when I was there. But I was never one who thought the world couldn’t operate without me. It’s very gratifying to read the newspaper and not see my name in it. At the same time, I still run into people back home that recognize me. Idahoans are still very kind to me. They like to say hello and talk about how it was and how it ought to be.
You must have more time to spend with your family now.
Yes, but even when I was in Congress, Suzanne and I worked very hard to schedule time for our kids and grandkids. I rarely missed a soccer game. But I’m in Idaho more now and get to spend a lot of time with my grandchildren. And it’s so beautiful there in Boise. We can see the valley and the mountains from our home. I love to look at that view.
One night, my grandson and I were out looking at the sky before a thunderstorm. We could see lightning, and he said, “Granddad, I think that lightning’s going to start some fires.” And sure enough, we could see the lightning hit in the distance and there was a fire. It was something to see.
Ask yourself a question.
Question: Who would you like to be stranded with on an Idaho mountain top? Answer: My wonderful wife Suzanne along with her cell phone and a GPS.