Should a DUI Disqualify You for Public Office?

dui disqualify candidatePolitics is a famously dirty business. Any skeleton in a candidate’s closet is sure to be trundled out by the opposition in an effort to show that he or she isn’t fit for office.

Some secrets in a politician’s past are career-enders, an example an Australian candidate for parliament who was found out to own a house of ill repute.

Similarly, proof of accepting a bribe or otherwise seriously abusing one’s office is career Kryptonite. But beyond that are shady areas: infidelity and ties to questionable people or organizations can often be explained away or repented. But what about drunk driving?

This year more than one politician is facing election with the specter of a DUI in the background. Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho is trying to get voters to overlook his 2013 DUI conviction in order to continue his very successful senatorial career.  In Homer, Alaska Kimberly Ketter, a candidate for city council in Homer, is on probation for felony DUI. There are also state representatives in Georgia and Connecticut running for re-election despite drunk driving convictions on their records.

Invariably a letter to the editor appears stating that a DUI should disqualify a candidate, or at least mark him or her for defeat. News reporters question candidates and their opponents on the likelihood  that the DUI will influence the election. The real question is, should it?

On the Anti-DUI-Candidate side, these arguments are brought up:

  • Bad judgment. Getting a DUI shows, first and foremost, a lack of good judgment. Despite knowing the facts about drunk driving and having been warned countless times not to drink and drive, the candidate chose to do so.
  • Substance problems. Some drunk driving is the result of alcohol abuse or dependency. Drunk driving is often accompanied by other personal problems, and shows a lack of ability to deal with them.
  • Disregard for others. Drunk driving is an antisocial crime. It shows disregard for others, and places one’s own desires over the safety of others. Candidates rarely put words like “anti-social” on their resume.

On the Second Chance side, it’s worth noting:

  • Recovery is possible. The majority of people who are convicted of DUI straighten their lives out and don’t get into trouble again. The shock of the arrest, the shame, expense, and inconvenience are enough to bring about a change in behavior. In fact, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney both had DUIs in their past.

The question Does a DUI disqualify a candidate for office is one that will be answered – this November. Voters will decide each case individually. But the question will surely come up again until drunk driving falls completely out of fashion.