Sunday, May 18, 2008

Todd Martens, Washington County DA And Tone-Deaf Politician Of The Year

The Journal Sentinel continues its page-one coverage of the drunk driving epidemic in Wisconsin with a Saturday story documenting that 10% of the state's license-holders have an OWI on their driving record.

This revelation comes in the wake of an horrific triple-fatality OWI crash in Waukesha County, and a spate of highly-publicized additional multiple-OWI offenses, including one in Washington County, where an allegedly drunken motorist with four previous OWI's on his record drove his truck into two parked cars and an apartment building.

Washington County shares a border with Waukesha County.

Yet Todd Martens, the Washington County District Attorney, manages to get himself quoted this way in that Saturday Journal Sentinel story about proposed changes to toughen Wisconsin's OWI laws:

""I don't think legislative decisions should be made in response to one case," said Washington County District Attorney Todd Martens. "I'm all for any legislation that will reduce the likelihood that third-offense drunk drivers will repeat their offenses. But just because someone is convicted of a felony, it doesn't mean they'd go to jail."

One case that tragically took place right next door to Martens' territory rightfully has people's attention right now, but the state totals - - nearly 480,000 OWI's still on the books in Wisconsin, indicate that the problem is severe and pervasive.

If I lived in Washington County, I think I'd want a new DA.


Jim Bouman said...

This reminds me of a really important lesson I learned a long while back while visiting an old friend in La Grange, Illinois. My friend had moved there for business reasons and to return to the Chicago area.

He told me: "Drive as fast as you like on the Tollway, but when you get off at Ogden Rd. to come into Western Springs and LaGrange, cut you speed to 25mph. NOT 30. Go 25 miles an hour. That's what we the people of Lagrange want in our little town. I know; I've learned my lesson".

Every kid in LaGrange learns it in drivers' education; every new citizen learns it early-on with a ticket for speeding. Everybody is socialized into a system that says "No speeding in Lagrange; AND WE MEAN IT".

So, changing the generations-old culture of Wisconsin that tolerates something more serious that speeding--careening down the streets and roads while shitface drunk--isn't going to happen overnight.

The District Attorneys and the Sheriffs who have to maintain the jails and detention facilities will tell us that it is too hard, too costly to change things from the way they are.

And they're right. It will cost a a great deal. It will not be easy. But the end result will be that when kids in Waukesha or Oconomowoc or anywhere in Wisconsin get to driving-age they'll know that there's a heavy price to pay for being foolish enough to ignore what everyone knows is the law and the practice of enforcing the law: drink and drive and you'll be dealt with harshly. HARSHLY. REALLY HARSHLY. we have the heart to do what is necessary? Can we turn the thinking of Wisconsin residents around? Will we pay the necessary price to get to the place we want to be?

It is good for all of us to ponder this.

My opinion? It is hard to know. But I think the guy from Door County is probably right. It is the bar culture that has to change; it is the jerkwater bunch at the Tavern League, it is the disinclination to yank the license of a tavern that lets patrons go out the door to their cars so drunk that they can't see, much less drive.

I'd like to see it happen. I am not optimistic.

Anonymous said...

I am not one who is, "only," complaining about the way things are, but I continually do try to think of positive solutions to problems that I see.

In the case of bar owners' responsibilities, perhaps forcing them by law to pay a living wage to food and beverage servers would help to encourage behavior that did not rely on servers plying patrons with excess alcohol (the occassional, "free drink," )to help ensure a good monetary tip from the patron that the server depends on to feed themselves or their family.

Don, Fish Creek, WI

Anonymous said...

Jim Bouman is close to the silver bullet solution to the problem of drunk driving. What is that? End the widespread tolerance for it.

Even after our daiughter's death as a result of a drunk driver, we still hear the same basic refrain, "People have always done it and they always will". To which I now reply, "If people tolerate drunk driving it will always be the same deadly problem".

It is partly about better laws being better enforced, but it is more about enough people not looking the other way or saying nothing about, or doing nothing about what is obviously wrong.