Drunk driving arrest is fair game
Scott Milfred of the Wisconsin State Journal says it is Peg Lautenschlager, not her opponents, who made drunk driving an issue in this campaign. He's right.
And it's not just her mistake and arrest, but many of the details and unanswered questions about the incident, and how she handled it, that make it a legitimate issue to raise. He writes:
The race for attorney general is not about incumbent Peg Lautenschlager's drunken driving conviction.
It's much more about the details surrounding the conviction, her failure to come clean, and what it all says about her character.
And as much as the drunken driving incident has exposed Lautenschlager in her re-election bid, it's also being used to try to shield her from legitimate criticism.
First the facts:
Lautenschlager isn't just another drunken driver in the state that made beer famous. For one thing, Lautenschlager wasn't drinking beer. She has long stuck to her story -- the one police hear all the time -- that she only had two glasses of wine.
Yet her preliminary breath test that fateful night in 2004 suggested her blood alcohol level was about 0.12 percent -- well above the legal limit for driving.
Breath tests can be off. That's why police take blood tests of drivers suspected of drinking too much. But Lautenschlager refused to take a blood test, another violation of the law by the person who is supposed to be the state's top law enforcer.
Another key point: While many state residents have been busted for boozing behind the wheel, very few have done so in their boss' car. And in Lautenschlager's case, her boss just so happens to be the people of Wisconsin.
Lautenschlager also drove her employer's car into a ditch and damaged it while drunk. She delayed talking in detail to the public about the incident, refusing to take any questions at a press conference.
Then her bosses, the people of Wisconsin, found out she had been commuting a long way in her state car to work without reimbursing her boss like she was supposed to. So she had to pay a fine and reimburse the expense.
Then the people of Wisconsin learned about other minor damage to her state car. In addition, her husband had been driving it and signing state gas card receipts - charging as much as $66 for a car wash and cleaning.
To no one's surprise, other candidates for attorney general this fall have pointed to Lautenschlager's poor judgement and mistakes.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who is running against Lautenschlager in Tuesday's Democratic primary, simply states in a TV ad: "Our state's top cop convicted of drunken driving in a state car, fined for misuse of the car by the (state) Ethics Board."
Falk could have used police video from Lautenschlager's arrest. But Falk didn't.
Republican candidate for attorney general Paul Bucher also has focused on Lautenschlager's drunken driving conviction in a radio ad. He notes Lautenschlager has admitted she made a terrible mistake, "But a mistake stops being your own business when it takes away your ability or your desire to lead on an issue as serious as drunken driving."
Bucher, Waukesha County's district attorney, then criticizes Lautenschlager in his ad for failing to support tougher penalties for first-time drunken drivers who cause most fatal and serious alcohol-related crashes.
The other GOP candidate in Tuesday's primary is former federal prosecutor J.B. Van Hollen.
Lautenschlager apologists have tried to argue that merely bringing up Lautenschlager's drunken driving conviction and all that goes with it is akin to dirty campaigning. They're trying to turn Lautenschlager's biggest negative into a positive. If an opponent so much as mentions drunken driving, the spin goes, that opponent is being unfair and cruel.
I don't think so.
To repeat: This is the state's top law enforcer who broke the law. That's obviously an appropriate issue in the race.
If Democrats in Tuesday's primary want to forgive Lautenschlager for her conviction, her poor handling of its aftermath and subsequent mistakes, so be it.
But don't blame Falk or Bucher for making legitimate points about a mess that Lautenschlager alone created.