There’s been a lot of talk around the capitol today about Sen. Jim Shockley’s open container citation and subsequent resignation as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
I think it’s safe to say that this story is—by virtue of the fact that there’s not much else going on in the gossip department—the first “scandal” of the session.
I haven’t heard anyone question that fact that Shockley demonstrated extremely poor judgment when he decided to sip a can of “red beer” on his way back to Stevensville last Friday. The incident is magnified by the fact that his committee is tackling a slate of DUI-related bills this week, including four that Shockley is sponsoring.
I’ve also heard a number of bi-partisan expressions of admiration and respect for Sen. Shockley’s integrity as a legislator.
Take this Tweet from fellow judiciary committee member Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, for example:
@shannonjaugare: Shockley is a man of honor and respect and will continue to be instrumental in the work of the judiciary cmt. He is missed as chair.
Or this statement from Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, who spoke during Thursday’s hearing prior to Shockley officially stepping down:
“I don’t think anybody that’s here is an angel. We’re taking on some important public policy. I think each of us is probably a hypocrite in some way or another, and I don’t think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues.”
Augare added during committee:
“We continue to look up to you as a leader for this committee and you have our appreciation and, mostly, our respect.”
Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, issued this statement Thursday afternoon after Shockley resigned as chair:
“Senator Shockley is undoubtedly embarrassed by the situation, but he has accepted responsibility and is making the right decision for the right reasons.”
As far as I know, there has been no public admonition of Shockley from either the Montana Democratic Party or the Montana Republican Party. While I wouldn’t expect Republicans to go out of their way to draw attention to this matter, I’m mildly surprised that the Democrats haven’t yet lobbed a few “hypocrite” charges Shockley’s way.
Then again, as Blewett so eloquently pointed out this morning, most people “are hypocrites in some way or another.” And let’s face it, it’s a long session and poor judgment is bi-partisan.
In related news…
Reporters were treated to a rare glimpse inside the Senate GOP’s damage control center Wednesday evening when a majority staffer inadvertently sent the wrong attachment in an e-mail press release. The attached document, which arrived in my inbox at 5:30 p.m., contained a version of the Senate GOP’s statement that was obviously still in the editing process. The mistake wasn’t caught until about a half hour later when a second e-mail went out at 6:09 p.m containing the fully edited statement.
The original statement (click here to view it) contained the closest thing to a public scolding Shockley has thus-far received for his ill-advised choice of road beverage.
The revised statement from Peterson removed phrases such as:
“This situation shows a lack of judgment that we have been working to change in this state…”
“The horrendous accidents that can occur from drinking and driving related offenses are serious crimes and a major issue facing Montana every day.”
Those lines were struck in favor of a considerably toned-down statement that didn’t even mention Shockley by name. Heck, the statement didn’t even acknowledge that Shockley is a member of Peterson’s party:
We are obviously very disappointed to hear the report that a member of our body was found to be in possession of an open container while driving last Friday evening. We are in full support of strong laws against drinking and driving that apply to every Montanan. We are committed to pursuing meaningful DUI reform and working to change the culture of drinking and driving in Montana.
I don’t expect Shockley’s open container citation to have much, if any, effect on the passage or failure of any of the DUI bills. In fact, barring another high-profile drinking-and-driving incident, I don’t expect it to be much of an issue at all for the remainder of the session. Budget cuts, education spending, medical marijuana reforms, etc. will keep lawmakers plenty busy with more important business.
That said, Shockley is gearing up to run against Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock in 2012. I think it’s safe to say voters will be reminded of this incident often once that campaign heats up.