Flashback: Emmer Had Past DWIs — And Sponsored Bills To Soften DWI Laws

July 15, 2010 2:00 p.m.

Here’s an interesting flashback into the recent political career of Minnesota state Rep. Tom Emmer, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor: He sponsored legislation last year to lower the legal penalties and procedural hurdles that face accused drunk drivers — all while he has had brushes with the law on this very subject in his own past.

As the Star Tribune and local blogs reported back in March 2009, Emmer sponsored legislation that would get rid of the state’s process of automatically revoking the licenses of people accused of driving while under the influence, or who refuse to take a sobriety test. The law Emmer tried to water down currently calls for a civil court process to have a license restored pending a final conviction. Instead, under Emmer’s bill, a license revocation would have only occurred after a conviction.

In fact, Emmer himself had received a ticket for DWI in 1981, when he was 20. And then again in 1991, when he was 30, he was charged with DWI and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of careless driving. “We all come to the Legislature with life experiences, but it has nothing to do with this bill,” Emmer said in 2009. “This is a good bill.”A month after the Star Tribune article, Emmer also authored a legislative amendment, adopted by the state House, to seal information on DUI convictions after 10 years, for all new convictions going forward. Although the amendment passed the House, it was later dropped in the state House-Senate conference committee. It should also be noted, as the local CBS affiliate pointed out, that this would not have applied to Emmer’s own past record. His past convictions would not have been sealed.

Back during the contest this past April for the state GOP convention’s endorsement (a process that is usually tantamount to nomination, by custom in Minnesota), Emmer was attacked for these proposals and his past record by his main GOP opponent, state Rep. Marty Seifert.

Seifert’s campaign went so far as to distribute to convention delegates a letter from a pro-Seifert delegate whose husband and son had been injured by a drunk driver. The delegate wrote: “I won’t question Tom Emmer’s motives in sponsoring these pieces of legislation. As an elected representative of his district, he is within his rights to author bills on any subject he likes. As a lawyer, he also undoubtedly has strongly held views on the state’s civil and criminal laws. But I think it is completely legitimate for us delegates to question his judgment as a politician and public figure. Was it wise for multiple offender Tom Emmer to sponsor these bills as a legislator?”

In response, Emmer posted a YouTube video in which he bluntly discussed having made past mistakes, what a difficult experience it was for him, and how he changed his direction in life:

Emmer went on to win the state party’s endorsement, thanks in part to a late endorsement from Sarah Palin, and was then endorsed by Seifert, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the rest of the state GOP.

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