By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Brad Schimel “made a terrible error of judgment as a young person.”
That’s what the Waukesha County district attorney and lead Republican candidate for Wisconsin attorney general declared this week in a statement, coming clean on a nearly 24-year-old Operating While Intoxicated offense.
Lo these many years later, Schimel says it was a mistake he deeply regrets.
“I pleaded guilty and took responsibility for my actions, and I continue to work each day to help others to learn (from) my experience,” he said in the statement.
CANDIDATE UNDER FIRE: Brad Schimel, candidate for state attorney general, announced this week his first-offense drunken driving ticket, an infraction he said that occurred nearly 24 years ago.
But Schimel’s critics, particularly Jon Richards, a Milwaukee state senator and candidate for the AG post, say Schimel should have been much more forthcoming about the drunken-driving infraction. Especially concerning to some is Schimel’s skepticism about a bill that would criminalize first-offense drunken driving in Wisconsin, the only state in the nation that issues a ticket for a first OWI.
The prosecutor, like a lot of Republicans, says he’s concerned about the costs to taxpayers in stiffening the law, and the bottleneck it could create in the court system. Proponents of the bill, most vehemently its Republican authors, say Wisconsin has a drinking — and driving — problem, and it’s more than time to toughen up the penalties.
Like second-offense drunken driving in the Badger State, Schimel’s story as it relates to his AG campaign boils down to a statute of limitations, at least in the court of public perception.
Others in the state political spotlight have been caught driving drunk, some on multiple occasions, only to go on to work in and around state politics.
Exhibit A: Graeme Zielinski, the vitriol-spewing former spokesman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, who picked up two OWI offenses before he joined the DPW. But that didn’t keep Zielinski from being hired as the mouth of the party. His third drunken driving arrest, which magically melted into a first offense, occurred after he and the party mostly parted ways last year.
Then there was the case of Jeff Wood, a Chippewa Falls independent lawmaker who voted with the Democrats. Wood was a multiple OWI offender, serving a two-month jail sentence for his latest drunken driving conviction in late 2010. The Democratss then didn’t have any qualms bailing Wood out of jail long enough for him to cast the deciding vote for controversial state labor agreements.
Wood, however, did not seek re-election after his 2010 sentence.
Of course, getting caught drinking and driving has proved politically costly in Wisconsin. Ask Peg Laugtenschlager. Wisconsin’s attorney general, a Democrat, in 2004, was arrested on a charge of drunken driving after an incident in which she damaged a state vehicle. Laugtenschlager lost her primary to then-Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.
Schimel, too, by his own admission, broke the law — and he may very well have to pay a political price.
But today we ask you: Should Brad Schimel’s “terrible error” nearly 24 years ago cost him at the polls? How long should a first-time drunken driving offense remain on a politician’s campaign record?
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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