Gov. Tim Walz has said in past campaigns that he wasn’t actually drunk when he was pulled over for driving under the influence in 1995, but a court transcript from the case tells a different story.
Walz was working as a teacher in Alliance, Neb., his home state, when he was pulled over Sept. 23, 1995 for going 96 mph in a 55-mph zone.
“A strong odor of alcoholic beverage was detected emitting from Mr. Walz[‘s] breath and person,” says a Nebraska state trooper’s report on the incident.
Walz submitted to and failed both a field sobriety test and a preliminary breath test, according to the report. He was then transported to Chadron Hospital for a blood test before being booked into the Dawes County Jail.
He was initially charged with driving under the influence and speeding, but the charges were reduced to a lone count of reckless driving under the terms of a plea deal.
The issue emerged during Walz’s successful 2006 campaign for Congress in Minnesota’s First District. In one of the few available articles on the incident, Walz’s campaign manager told the Rochester Post Bulletin he was “not drunk” and “attributed the misunderstanding to Walz’s deafness,” an issue Walz said was caused by his time in the National Guard that has since been “surgically corrected.”
“He couldn’t understand what the officer was saying to him,” Walz’s campaign manager said at the time, noting his deafness caused “balance issues.” Neither the trooper’s report nor the court transcript reference the governor’s hearing issues.
The results of the blood test were later suppressed, seemingly as a result of the trooper’s failure to realize Walz was deaf, according to the Post Bulletin article. This means the results wouldn’t have been used as evidence against Walz had the case gone to trial, but they were still referenced during a March 13, 1996 hearing on the plea agreement.
During that hearing, former Dawes County Attorney Rex Nowlan said that Walz had a blood alcohol concentration of .128 at the time of the incident.
“Mr. Walz was driving south of town on 385 in Dawes County at a high rate of speed. Actually, he was driving away from the police officer. I think that he eventually hit a speed of over 80, as I recall. When he was stopped, he was given a blood test which did show a .128 blood alcohol,” Nowlan said, according to a court transcript.
Walz’s attorney, Russell Harford, later acknowledged that Walz “had been drinking” but said he was driving away from the state trooper because he “thought somebody was chasing him.”
“The state patrol officer turned around and, this is a little, a little bit bizarre, but Mr. Walz thought somebody was chasing him. The officer didn’t turn on his red lights and he — and somebody came up real fast behind him and he didn’t know what they were doing, so he sped up to try to get away, fearing that somebody was after him,” Harford said.
“Low and behold, it was a state patrolman that was behind him, so the faster he went, the faster the state patrol officer went. Finally, he did turn on his red lights. The speed was fairly excessive, judge, a lot over the speed limit. I don’t even know what was alleged in the complaint, it may have been 90 something. Mr. Walz had been — had been drinking, so I think there’s a sufficient factual basis, judge, to support the plea,” he continued.
Harford further admitted that Walz had “a .128” but described this as a “relatively low test.” At the time, the legal limit in Nebraska was .10 but, like all states, has since been lowered to .08.
According to the American Addiction Centers, a BAC of .10 or higher results in reduced reaction time and control, slurred speech, slower thinking and reasoning, and an inability to coordinate arms and legs. The University of Notre Dame says this level of intoxication can cause “significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment.”
For reference, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson allegedly had a BAC of .13 when he totaled his county-issued vehicle late last year.
Walz’s attorney went on to say that the governor felt so bad about the incident that he offered to resign his teaching position at Alliance High School and all of his extracurricular activities.
“He, I think, takes the position that he’s a role model for the students there. He let them down, he let himself down. Because of that, he was ready to resign his position. Fortunately, the principal talked him out of resigning from [the] school. He did, in fact, though resign from his extracurricular activities,” Harford said.
The judge then asked Walz why it is against the law to “drive with a .128 blood alcohol content.”
“Not just statutory, it’s just a dangerous situation, Your Honor, not just to myself, but to others who are — who aren’t even involved with it,” Walz replied.
At some point later that year, Walz left Nebraska to start a new life in Mankato, Minn., where he began “teaching and coaching” at Mankato West High School, according to his campaign website.
It’s not uncommon for past drunk-driving offenses to emerge on the campaign trail. In fact, in the 2010 gubernatorial contest, Alliance for a Better Minnesota ran ads against Republican Tom Emmer for two past DUI charges. Emmer lost that race to Democrat Mark Dayton by less than half a percentage point, ushering in 12 years of DFL control.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota ad featured a mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver.
“And then I read that Tom Emmer has been arrested twice himself for drunk driving … And this man wants to be governor? Minnesota needs a governor who’s on our side — and that’s just not Tom Emmer,” the ad said.
The governor’s office was provided with a copy of the transcript but did not respond to three requests for comment over four days.