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Dan Liljenquist: One mistake doesn't negate lifetime of service

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho speaks outside Alexandria General District Court in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, after pleading guilty Friday to a misdemeanor first-offense drunken driving charge. In exchange for his plea Friday, prosecutors dropped a charge of failing to obey a traffic signal. Crapo received a $250 fine and a 12-month suspension of his driver's license and must complete an alcohol safety program.

Associated Press

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Each of us has a handpicked pantheon of heroes and role models in our lives. For 20 years, Sen. Mike Crapo has been one of them for me.

I grew up in Idaho Falls and lived close to Mike (as everyone there calls him). During my teens and 20s, Mike was a particularly bright star in Idaho politics. He was elected to the Idaho Senate in 1984 and within four years was chosen as the Senate president by his peers. In 1992, the year I graduated from high school and enrolled at BYU, Mike successfully ran for Congress.

I met Mike Crapo for the first time five years later when I was serving as an intern for U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett. A few weeks into my internship, I found myself in the House office building close to Congressman Crapo's office. I decided to drop in, if only to catch a glimpse of the congressman. A few moments after walking in, I was sitting one on one with Congressman Crapo in his personal office. I was stunned.

During my time on Capitol Hill, I learned that interns are not very important people. With the exception of Sen. Bennett, who was always gracious and interested in me (and is a good friend to this day), I found that interns were to be seen but not heard.

One experience stands out in my memory. I remember standing in a reception line for interns to shake the hands of several famous members of Congress. I was excited to meet one senator in particular, but when I approached him, he was engaged in a jovial conversation with one of his colleagues. I stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do.

He suddenly turned to me, shook my hand briefly, muttered a "how are you" and turned back to his conversation without a second look and without waiting for reply. I knew in that moment that I was small potatoes indeed.

But sitting with Congressman Crapo in his office changed all that for me. Mike was interested in me personally. He asked me about my plans, about school, about my family. He listened intently, spending at least 20 minutes with me.

When one of his staffers informed him that he was late for a vote, Congressman Crapo asked me to accompany him to the House floor. We walked outside of the House offices and towards the Capitol. I felt like a million bucks walking up the Capitol steps with Congressman Crapo. When we parted at the door of the House floor, Mike Crapo wished me well. And I believed him.

I was personally devastated to hear the news that Senator Crapo chose to drink and drive the weekend before Christmas. I am so grateful for the vigilant police officer who pulled him over and removed the deadly danger he was imposing on the people of Virginia. The news could have been far, far more tragic, but it was tragic for me nonetheless.

I have felt a flood of emotions about Sen. Crapo over the last couple of weeks. Sorrow. Betrayal. Anger. Compassion. And even forgiveness. I do not know why Mike chose to do what he did, nor do I understand how other decisions led him to this point. But I do choose to remember that no one person is all good or all bad, and that it is not for us to judge what is in his heart.

As Mike Crapo accepts responsibility for his behavior (which he is), I hope we all remember that one black mark does not negate a lifetime of service. I also hope he knows that this former intern is grateful for the kindness he once showed me.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.

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