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Citizen Dave: Driving drunk gets you a pass in Wisconsin politics
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Ismael Ozanne, Brad Schimel
Ismael Ozanne, Brad Schimel

Folks, we have a problem in Wisconsin.

Not one, but two out of three candidates for Wisconsin Attorney General have come forward to say that they drove impaired by alcohol. Republican candidate and Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel was arrested for driving drunk in 1990, when he was 24 years old. Democratic candidate and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was not legally drunk when he crashed his car in the UW Arboretum at age 16, but at that age, any alcohol in the driver's bloodstream is a violation.

In neither case should this bar the candidates from serving as AG. They each made a mistake a very long time ago, and there's no reason to suspect they did it again.

A more serious (and recent) case involved Peg Lautenschlager, who crashed her state car and was convicted of drunk driving in 2004 with a blood alcohol level that was 50% above the legal limit. Lautenschlager was no kid at the time. She was also the sitting Attorney General of the state of Wisconsin. It was amazing to me that she kept her job, much less had the audacity to run for reelection without so much as admitting that she had a problem or getting treatment for her alcohol issues. She lost her reelection bid, but not necessarily because of her drunk diving conviction.

In Wisconsin, driving drunk doesn't often get you booted from public office. In 2000 state Rep. Lorraine Seratti (R-Spread Eagle) was caught driving drunk with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. She ran a stop sign, almost hit another car, and didn't stop for officers when they caught up with her. After she was arrested, she used an expletive directed at an officer. She easily won reelection.

Around that time, the late state Sen. Roger Breske (D-Eland) was stopped for drunk diving in Fitchburg. When asked by the police officer to recite the alphabet, Breske said that he could not, as he had not recited it for some time. Breske was reelected from his northern Wisconsin district.

All this is brought to mind now because the legislature is debating a bill that would criminalize first offense drunk driving. Wisconsin has the distinction of being the only state where that is not the case. Legally impaired drivers account for 34% of fatal crashes in our state and alcohol certainly plays a factor in even more.

One of three men is likely to be our next Attorney General. The third candidate, State Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), reports that he's never been stopped for driving under the influence.

Whoever gets the job, let's hope they get serious about this serious problem.

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