Pam Walzer's timing really couldn't have been much worse. In the middle of the Missoula City Council's debate over a controversial ordinance that would criminalize motorists who refuse alcohol or drug testing when suspected of driving under the influence, Walzer, a Ward 2 councilwoman, goes and gets booked for a DUI. Thank goodness she agreed to a breath test, otherwise the hypocrisy would have been as clear as a neat martini.
Nevertheless, some have called for Walzer to resign. Others convey a little sympathy; a blood test at the time of the arrest early last Wednesday morning revealed that Walzer's blood alcohol content was 0.08, exactly the legal limit.
We're not going to forgive Walzer—or anyone—for driving drunk, but we do think she deserves a modicum of credit for owning her mistake, which, for a politician, even on the local level, seems exceedingly rare.
On Monday night, a horde of reporters and TV cameras came to the City Council meeting to cover Walzer's first public statement following the arrest.
"I chose to drive my car that night and made a human error in judgment," Walzer said. "It was wrong and I fully accept the responsibilities and consequences. This is my first DUI." She added that she won't resign.
By fessing up and pleading guilty Walzer displayed a strength of conscience that malfeasant elected officials, in Montana and beyond, have woefully lacked of late.
State Sen. Greg Barkus' dodgy response to his drunken motorboat crash last August immediately comes to mind. With a blood alcohol content twice Walzer's, Barkus slammed his boat into Flathead Lake's rocky shore. The accident injured all five aboard, including U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, and nearly killed Dustin Frost, a Rehberg staffer. Barkus' reaction has been to minimize and deflect the evidence against him, a strategy he continues six months after the incident.
Of course, there are countless more examples from politicians all over the country, from New York Gov. David Paterson's silence and interference following a domestic dispute involving his top aide, to former presidential nominee John Edwards' recent confession, after persistent denials, to fathering a child with his mistress. Spinelessness abounds, and we come to expect it.
And so while Walzer deserves much of the condemnation she's receiving, we find it refreshing that, after she screwed up, she simply said so. After all, wouldn't those who support the proposed ordinance argue that taking responsibility is what it's really all about?