Thursday, April 22, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP:Confession is Good For the Soul

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican

This week I had to write about a state Senate candidate who lied. At a public forum on Monday the candidate said she'd never been arrested for drunken driving. In fact, as court records and state motor-vehicle records show, she had been convicted of DWI, albeit two decades ago.

Reaction to the story from some supporters of Letitia Montoya has been along the line of "Why are you dredging up 20-year-old cases?" One man posted a note on The New Mexican's Web site that said, "The press sure loves to dig up dirty laundry."

Most of those responding seemed to understand an essential point: It's not a story about the 1984 drunk-driving arrest of a woman in her early 20s -- it's about the false statement in 2004 by an adult in her early 40s who is running for state Legislature.

Had Montoya admitted to the decades-old arrest at the forum, it would have rated far less attention.

But as long as I'm being accused of dragging up "dirty laundry" from a political candidate's past, let me come clean with some of my own.

In 1975, when I was 21, I was charged with DWI.

I was driving my roommate's Volkswagen bug, because he was even drunker than I. Or was he? He at least had enough presence of mind to realize he was too drunk to drive. But he had a lousy choice for a designated driver.

We were heading for a bar, the old Rosa's Cantina in Algodones. I ran into another car, which was coming from Rosa's.

Despite the old saying that drunks always come out unscathed, I came out the worst by far in the wreck. I broke my hip, which required a month's stay in the hospital and having to use crutches for two months. I still have metal pins in my hip and a Frankenstein scar along my left leg.

No, I'm not seeking sympathy.

I was stupid. It was inexcusable. I was guilty.

But I wasn't convicted. At my hearing in Sandoval County Magistrate Court, the state agreed to drop the DWI and to reduce the charge of reckless driving to careless driving. I paid a fine and that was it.

Having covered so many DWI-related trials and covering so many DWI bills in the Legislature, I marvel at how easy it was to get off on drunken driving back then.

And no, it wasn't because of some fancy lawyer. I was represented by a University of New Mexico law student in a legal-aid program they had for UNM students at the time.

I don't know if I was ever actually arrested. An ambulance at the scene took me to the hospital. A few days later a state-police officer came to my room and gave me my tickets. I was never jailed for the DWI.

This wretched part of my past is something I've never hidden from my children. While it's nothing I'm proud of, I've always wanted them to know that irresponsible acts can have serious consequences -- even with nice, well-meaning people like their dad.

Not a stealth candidate: Speaking of Monday night's candidate forum, I reported that Robert Mallin, a District 25 Senate candidate who is unopposed in the Republican primary, was invited to attend but didn't show up.

"I never got an invitation," Mallin said Tuesday. "I don't want people to think I'm a stealth candidate. I would have gone. I'm not well known and I want to get better known."

Al Lopez of Voices of Santa Fe, the group that organized the forum, said in an e-mail that he sent Mallin the same invitation all the other candidates got.

The group's next forum -- which is for House of Representatives candidates in Districts 45 and 47 -- is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Eldorado Hotel.

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