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Bush acknowledges DUI conviction in '76

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time, George W. Bush acknowledged Thursday night that he was arrested and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 1976 in Maine.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


MILWAUKEE -- For the first time, George W. Bush acknowledged Thursday night that he was arrested and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 1976 in Maine.

"I'm not proud of that," the Republican nominee for president said in a five-minute news conference outside a cow barn at the Wisconsin State Fair. "I have oftentimes said, years ago, I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much and I did on that night. I regret that it happened."

photo
[AP photo]
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush ponders a question from a reporter about his arrest and guilty plea for driving under the influence of alcohol in 1976, after a rally Thursday in West Allis, Wis.
The remarkable news conference was broadcast live by cable news networks.

The Sept. 4, 1976, arrest on the misdemeanor charge was known by only a handful of his campaign advisers and had been kept from his twin daughters, who are now freshmen in college. Bush said he had not wanted to tell them because it set a bad example and he does not want them to drink and drive.

Communications director Karen Hughes said Bush's wife, Laura, called the teenagers Thursday night to tell them.

Bush, now 54, was 30 years old at the time of the arrest. He said he pleaded guilty and spent no time in jail. He paid a $150 fine and had his driving privileges suspended in Maine after his arrest, Hughes said.

The Texas governor quit drinking after his 40th birthday party in Colorado in 1986.

The 24-year-old DUI arrest was first reported Thursday by a Portland, Maine, television station, just five days before the general election. A reporter for Fox News asked the campaign about the arrest after the network received a copy of the report from the Maine affiliate.

Bush, who is locked in a tight race with Vice President Al Gore, said the report was accurate and would not speculate about why the arrest became public now.

"That's your job," he told reporters with a smile. "I've got my suspicions."

The Texas governor said he has been truthful with voters in his home state and across the country.

"I think people know I've been straightforward, that I've made mistakes in the past," he said. "I said I made mistakes in the past. People know about that. They've thought about that."

The revelation was the first bump in what had been a smooth week for Texas governor, who holds a slight lead over Gore in the polls. The arrest had gone unreported despite intensive efforts by news organizations over the last two years to investigate Bush's background and question him about his old drinking habits. Bush said he had not lied in answering questions about his past and that he had not tried to cover up the arrest.

"I hope that a mistake the governor made 24 years ago would not have an impact in the final days of this election," Hughes said. "I think the timing of an announcement like this, coming out four to five days before the election about an incident that happened 24 years ago, about which the governor's daughters did not know, I think is certainly questionable."

The news traveled quickly to the Gore campaign. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane deflected questions.

"Obviously, it's a breaking news story and we just don't have a comment," Lehane said. "This is just not something the Gore campaign is involved with in any shape, way or form."

At a news conference outside the campaign plane on the tarmac at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Hughes said Bush's arrest occurred in Kennebunkport, Maine, while he was visiting his parents in September 1976. He had been to a tavern and had drunk "several beers" before he was stopped by police, she said. In the car with Bush were his sister, Dorothy, and tennis star John Newcombe and his wife.

The Bush campaign then flew to Milwaukee for another rally, where the Texas governor gave a version of his standard speech. Afterward, reporters were directed to wait for Bush outside a side door at the cow barn.

Bush said he acknowledged to the police officer who stopped his car that he had been drinking, went to the local police station and paid the fine.

"I told the guy I had been drinking, what do I need to do," he recalled.

Calvin Bridges, 51, identified as the arresting officer by the Bush campaign and documents made available by the Bush campaign, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that he recalls driving home from work after midnight and seeing a car slipping briefly onto the shoulder before getting back on the road.

Bush, the driver, failed a road sobriety test and a second test in the police station, registering a 0.10 blood-alcohol level -- the legal limit at the time, Bridges said.

Asked about Bush's demeanor, the retired officer said, "The man was, and I say this without being facetious, a picture of integrity. He gave no resistance. He was very cooperative."

Bush's running mate Dick Cheney, 59, had two driving while intoxicated offenses when he was in his early 20s, in 1962 and 1963, according to his press secretary, Juleanna Glover Weiss.

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