It’s never a good time for a politician to get arrested for driving under the influence, but it’s especially bad to get pulled in by law enforcement when the next election is less than six weeks away.
But that’s the situation Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) was facing in his campaign to win reelection to a fourth term in the Georgia House.
While driving through Rabun County in northeast Georgia recently, Taylor was clocked going 72 mph in a 45 mph zone and pulled over by Clayton police officer Michael Bennett.
Officer Bennett noted “an overwhelming odor of alcohol” while talking to Taylor and added that “Taylor’s face was very red and his eyes were bloodshot.” Taylor claimed he had had nothing to drink, but when he blew into a breathalyzer, it was determined he had a blood alcohol level of .225, nearly triple the legal limit.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Taylor also had a Glock 36, a .45 caliber handgun, strapped to his side and four underage exchange students riding in the car with him.
He was charged with driving under the influence, speeding, and having an open alcohol container in his Hyundai Santa Fe. There were no charges related to the firearm, which Taylor was legally carrying.
One of the oddest aspects of the incident was that Taylor got out of his SUV as the police officer was approaching the vehicle. When Bennett told Taylor, who was wearing his firearm, to return to the vehicle, Taylor refused. Only after Bennett ordered him a second time to get back in the SUV did Taylor comply.
There are quite a few jurisdictions where an armed suspect who refuses to obey a police order will find himself in danger of being either shot or thrown flat on the ground and forcibly restrained. That didn’t happen in this instance. Tom Taylor is a very lucky man.
There are all sorts of ironies here, starting with the fact that one of the people entrusted with writing the laws of this state was himself charged with breaking those laws.
You can add to that the irony of Taylor being arrested just a few weeks after his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly passed a bill that will allow students attending public colleges to carry firearms on campus.
Many college students, being young and emotionally immature, have a tendency to imbibe large quantities of alcoholic beverages. The proposed law passed by the Legislature will allow those hard-drinking college students to carry firearms like a Glock 36 as they walk about their campuses.
As Taylor demonstrated, mature grownups have no business getting drunk when they’re carrying a handgun, let alone kids.
Taylor is not the first legislator to encounter problems from too much of that demon rum. Generally speaking, it doesn’t end well for a politician in that situation.
About 10 years ago, Rep. David Graves (R-Macon), the chairman of the House committee that oversees regulation of the liquor industry, was arrested twice in 11 months on drunken driving charges in Cobb County. He decided not to run for re-election.
Rep. Kip Smith (R-Columbus) was nailed by Atlanta police on a DUI charge prior to the 2012 primary elections and was subsequently defeated by John Pezold. Rep. Chuck Sims (R-Ambrose) was popped twice on DUI charges within a four-month period in 2013 and didn’t run again.
Taylor is not some obscure backbencher. He chairs the MARTA overview committee and is a favorite of Speaker David Ralston. He has a fairly moderate voting record — he was one of the few Republicans, oddly enough, who didn’t vote for the campus carry bill.
Taylor is opposed by political activist Tom Owens in the upcoming GOP primary, so the arrest comes at a very inopportune time for him.
Owens has raised only $514 in campaign contributions, but the DUI arrest gives him a potent issue to use in the campaign — he’s already sent out a news release denouncing Taylor as “unfit to hold the office of Georgia state representative.”
Taylor so far says he will stay in the race: “This was my first run-in with the law in my life, and it will also be my last.” Will it also be his last term in office?
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.