Patti Wenzel

Slap on wrist proves lawmakers weak on drunk driving

By - Apr 26th, 2010 04:00 am
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Mug shot of Rep. Jeff Wood. Photo courtesy of the Columbia County Sheriff Department.

There is an old adage that states “actions speak louder than words.”  It means that one’s true character is often defined by what they do, not by what they say.

Last week the Wisconsin Assembly proved its character by slapping Rep. Jeff Wood (I-Chippewa Falls) on the wrist for repeated drunk driving arrests and convictions.

This was after Wood was sentenced to 45 days in jail with Huber release for his third impaired driving conviction, minimum jail time legislated and revoked his license for 27 months.

Drunk and impaired driving is a menace in Wisconsin. In 2008, 41 people died on our roads due to drunk driving. We all remember the physician who killed Oconomowoc educator Jennifer Bukosky, her 10-year-old daughter and her unborn child while driving under the influence. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed the carnage on the roads in the series “Wasted in Wisconsin,” which examined  drunk driving deaths in each of the Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

As the public outcry grew for stiffer penalties, legislators stood before families who lost loved ones and said they would fight to change Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws.

The Assembly did make some minor changes to drunk driving legislation, the most notable of which was making  fourth offense drunk driving  a felony instead of a misdemeanor. But we still consider  first-time drunk driving  only worthy of a traffic ticket.

Since Wood’s arrest in December 2008, there have been calls that he give up his Assembly seat, something he defiantly refused to do. He has said he will not seek re-election in the fall, probably a wise decision since he has a total of five drunk and drugged driving arrests under his belt.

With Wood’s refusal to step down, Assembly colleagues moved to have him removed. Rep. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) authored the resolution, but Assembly Democrats amended it to allow for a censure of Wood.

Here’s where we see the true character our Assembly. While they did the right thing in toughening drunk driving laws, that “get tough” attitude went out the window as soon as it was one of their own in the hot seat.

Wood had the audacity to call for the vote on his own expulsion in the early morning hours of April 16, when his chief accuser was not at the Capitol. Nass was in Whitewater preparing to bury his mother. To add insult to injury, Milwaukee Rep. Pedro Colon said that if Nass wanted to prosecute Wood, he could have been there that morning.

Eventually the vote was put off until this past Wednesday when Nass was present. This time the debate on the resolution came at 6:30 in the morning. At that early hour, the hypocrisy was in full view. Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids) suggested that they shouldn’t remove Wood because previous representatives appeared on the floor of the Capitol inebriated, and Wood wasn’t drunk while in session.

Rep. Mary Hubler (D-Rice Lake) said Wood had been punished enough and wouldn’t be driving anymore since the judge revoked his license.

So, after months of hand wringing, posing for holy pictures and uttering promises that Wisconsin would be tougher drunk drivers, especially repeat offenders, these same legislators failed to vote to expel Wood, 49-48 (a two-thirds majority was needed for expulsion) and instead censured him on a vote of 73-24.

Yeah, you guys have really cracked down on drunk driving, as long as it’s some poor schmuck leaving a bar in South Milwaukee. But if you’re part of the ruling class, a simple “don’t do that again, we’re very disappointed,” will do.

Thanks for the lesson.

Categories: Commentary, Politics

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