Lawmakers have faced DWI trouble in Austin before


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on March 15, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 15 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Considered by many a rising star among Texas Democrats, state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) began her second legislative session with a list of priorities. 
"We need to restore money to education. We need to restore money to health care, because the bottom line is we know education is an investment in our future," Gonzalez told media during state Democrats' rebuttal to Gov. Rick Perry's (R-TX) State of the State address in January.
Assigned to four committees including vice chair of the Human Services Committee, Gonzalez has filed 34 bills addressing issues from child welfare to student loans. During her first legislative session in 2011, she was named Freshman of the Year by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus.
The 34-year-old lawmaker now faces a legal dilemma after a late night collision with another vehicle in South Austin that resulted in Gonzalez and a cyclist sustaining non-life-threatening injuries. According to the Austin Police Department, Gonzalez was determined to be intoxicated and was subsequently charge with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), a misdemeanor offense.
"Obviously recent events are concerning for me," Gonzalez said in a public statement released afterwards. "However I would like to say first that my thoughts and prayers go out to the other persons involved. I hope you understand, I won't be commenting further until the legal matters have been resolved."
"I appreciate the support I have received from my family, my colleagues and my friends," she continued. "I am committed to moving forward and continuing the important work of this Legislative session."
It's not the first time a lawmaker has been accused of driving drunk in Austin and their career questioned. State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) was pulled over and arrested for DWI in November of 2001, after an officer observed his car weaving from side to side.
"I exercised poor judgment. I made a mistake," he admitted in a press conference called soon after the incident. "To my family and to my constituents, I am very sorry."
Barrientos pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year of probation and abstinence from alcohol, along with community service and alcohol counseling. He later applied for and obtained an occupational license in order to continue working while his license was revoked.
When Barrientos ran for re-election in 2002, dashboard camera video of his arrest was used in political ads by Republican challenger Ben Bentzin.
"I think that speaks to a failure of leadership," Bentzin told KVUE in October 2002. "It speaks to a failure to follow the laws that he votes for, and I think it is a legislative and integrity issue in this race."
Barrientos won re-election with 52.7 percent of the ballots, compared to 43.12 percent for Bentzin. He did not run for re-election after his term expired in 2007.
At his widely publicized press conference in November 2001, Barrientos candidly admitted to similar behavior before, and urged others to take his example as a warning.
"I think that probably many people have," said Barrientos. "I will never ever make that mistake again. And I will tell anybody that listens to me, if you think you have two or three drinks or beers or whatever, and you have even an inkling of a question, don't do it."    
Police this week offered the same advice.
"If you're going to drink, please don't drive," APD Senior Officer Jermaine Kilgore said in a media conference Thursday to address the charges against Gonzalez. "Have someone pick you up, drop you off, catch a cab, but please be safe and be responsible."