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By Miriam Raftery

August 23, 2014 (San Diego)--As we reported Friday, State Senator Ben Hueso, a Democrat whose 40th district includes the southern portions of San Diego and East County as well as Imperial and Riverside counties, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Sacramento.  The Senator has issued an apology and will appear in court this week.

Adding to Hueso’s woes, the Sacramento Bee has posted a photo showing Hueso partying with the Latino Caucus, shirt tail untucked, shortly before his arrest. It was tweeted by fellow legislator Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who later deleted the image. A reporter at the Sacramento Bee also reportedly received an audio file purporting to be loud singing on a capitol balcony during the evening revelry.

Will Senator Hueso’s arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol spell the end of his political future? Not necessarily, based on an examination of records of prior legislators faced with similar charges.

Nationwide, some legislators have lost elections or opted not to run again after drunk driving scandals. But the website StopTheMadness.org (http://stopthemaddness.org/pols.html) indicates that several legislators around the nation have also been reelected after not only arrests, but even convictions of driving under the influence. 

In California, four members of the state legislature have been arrested on DUI charges over the past five years. 

Assemblyman Martin Garrick, a Republican from San Diego’s North County region, pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit in 2011. He was sentenced to rehab, community service and loss of his driver’s license for four months. Garrick left office in 2012 due to term limits. 

Assemblyman Roger Hernández, a Democrat from West Covina, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2012 but charges were later dismissed after a jury found him not guilty. He was reelected and remains in office.

Senator Roy Ashburn, a Republican from Bakersfield, pleaded no contest after an arrest for drunk driving after leaving a gay bar in 2010.  Ashburn later ran for Supervisor in Kern County and lost, but was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state Uninsurance Appeals Board, where he continues to serve.

Events hosted by legislative caucuses, lobbyists and other groups in the state capitol frequently serve alcohol, making over-indulgence an occupational hazard.  But free ride service is a perk available to any California legislator who needs a driver for any reason;  the legislator merely needs to call the Sergeant at Arms to request one.   

This begs the question: why do so many state legislators sworn to uphold the law fail to either abstain from over-indulging, or make a simple phone call to make use of the state’s free designated drivers for its elected officials?


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