- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

When a man is arrested in an airport restroom during a sex-solicitation sting, he soon discovers who his real friends are.

In Sen. Larry Craig’s case, it would be hard to find a better friend than Chuck Cushman.

Other conservatives may be scrambling to disassociate themselves from the Idaho Republican; not Mr. Cushman. A longtime Craig ally on land-use issues, he’s defending the senator’s innocence and blasting the Republican leadership for trying to “throw him to the wolves” despite years of service.

“Republican or Democrat, you don’t treat your friends and allies like that,” said Mr. Cushman, president of the American Land Rights Association in Battle Ground, Wash. “All the Republican leadership cared about was the politics of the situation and didn’t [care] about Larry Craig, and they’re going to pay for that.”

Mr. Cushman recently began calling for a boycott of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the incident occurred. He’s also calling for the police to apologize to Mr. Craig for the arrest, which he said relied on “body language” and innuendo.

His 60,000-member organization is threatening to hold protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention, coincidentally held in Minneapolis, if Mr. Craig resigns. The senator, under pressure from Republicans embarrassed by his arrest, has said he will step down Sunday.

So far Mr. Cushman is something of a voice in the wilderness, although he’s working to drum up support among the senator’s core constituency of conservative rural Westerners. It hasn’t been easy, given that Mr. Craig was accused of soliciting sex from a male police officer.

The senator has vehemently denied that he is a homosexual. Mr. Cushman points out that he only pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and that police didn’t catch him in the act.

“Not enough of our people are stepping forward, which is too bad because they owe Larry Craig a lot,” Mr. Cushman said. “But they’re timid and they worry about what their membership will think if they support Larry Craig.”

Another with no such worries is Alan Gottlieb, president of the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, Wash. He recently invited Mr. Craig to speak at the organization’s Oct. 5 to 7 convention but said the senator declined because of a scheduling conflict.

“Senator Craig has always been in our corner as a staunch defender of gun rights,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “He’s been one of the best senators in the history of gun rights. People are not going to turn on the man because he’s always been a friend.”

The suggestion that Mr. Craig may be homosexual is beside the point, said Mr. Gottlieb, noting that the convention often draws homosexual gun owners from the group Pink Pistols.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be happy with that lifestyle,” he said. “But we’re a single-issue group. We support anyone who supports our position. There’s no reason for us not to support Larry Craig.”

Mr. Cushman agrees.

“I don’t think he did anything to prove he’s gay, and it doesn’t matter to me whether he’s gay or not gay,” he said. “What matters to me is that no senator has done more to protect private-property owners, access to federal lands, and recreation and use of federal lands than Larry Craig.”

Patrick Hogan, Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport spokesman, said he didn’t know whether the boycott had cut airport traffic, noting that the airlines don’t deliver their passenger counts until the end of the month.

“We’re not being deluged with comments about people wanting to boycott,” Mr. Hogan said.

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