Former Sen. Larry Craig makes rare public appearance at commencement address

Former Sen. Larry Craig makes rare public appearance at commencement address
For Craig, his commencement address Thursday marked a rare public appearance in his home state since his retirement from politics in 2009, which was brought about by the scandal that followed his 2007 arrest in a sex sting operation. (AP Photo/Post Register, Pat Sutphin)

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig challenged 70 new college graduates of a University of Idaho satellite campus to think ambitiously as they move beyond school, urging each to explore their potential as leaders in their communities and country.

For Craig, his commencement address Thursday at UI's campus in Idaho Falls marked a rare public appearance in his home state since his retirement from politics in 2009, which was brought about by the scandal that followed his 2007 arrest in a sex sting operation.

"You have all persevered; now what are you going to do with it?" Craig told more than 70 students and their families, according to a story published by the Post Register Friday.

Craig, a UI graduate who served three terms as senator, did not talk about the troubles that ultimately led to the end of his political career. Instead, the conservative Republican waxed on energy and the importance of the industry, subjects that have been a focus for him in and out of political office.

As a senator, Craig was influential in writing and passing the 2005 and 2007 energy policy acts and was recently appointed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to the Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission. He credited the energy industry and its leaders with building the country, putting people to work and helping define a way of life.

"These resources didn't just happen," Craig said. "They were designed and developed by ... great thinkers with ideas that allowed us to use our energy so successfully that we became the richest country in the world with a vibrant culture."

Craig was arrested in 2007 and accused of soliciting sex in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an undercover officer. Although he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, Craig insisted he did so only to keep the situation quiet, and in the frenzied days after his arrest became public, Craig told a crowd in Boise that he intended to resign.

He stayed in office, opting instead to retire in 2009 at the end of his third term.

Now, he is in a legal fight with the Federal Elections Commission amid questions about his use of campaign funds. In March, a federal judge refused to dismiss the FEC lawsuit alleging Craig misused $217,000 on his legal defense and unsuccessful efforts to overturn his guilty plea.

For many students, Craig's past political troubles simply didn't matter.

"I don't care about it - I'm graduating," said Regina Terrell, who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology after 10 years of part-time study.

Campus administrators said Craig, with his experience in energy, seemed like a good fit for a campus that's home to UI's nuclear engineering program and a partner with the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

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Information from: Post Register