Austin is a city that likes to drink. It’s no coincidence that the nightlife, music festivals and hot weather for which Austin is known go so well with a cold beer or mixed drink. In fact, a 2012 study by Time Magazine calls Austin the fifth drunkest city in the nation, beating out infamously raucous towns like New Orleans and Las Vegas.
But this dubious title comes with the responsibility to partake in a manner that does not endanger yourself or others. On Friday night, Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County district attorney, failed to honor this responsibility when she drove southbound on R.M. 620 after having consumed several alcoholic beverages. A witness calling 911 reported that Lehmberg’s car had been driving in the bicycle lane for about a mile, after which it re-entered the road and was swerving in and out of its lane, at one point crossing into oncoming traffic.
Police found her car in a church parking lot and arrested the DA for driving while intoxicated.
Lehmberg was released from the Travis County jail Monday morning and in a letter to County Attorney David Escamilla said, “I am guilty of DWI and of acting unreasonably and the fault is all my own. I am deeply sorry for my actions.” However, Lehmberg has no intention to resign from her post as Travis County DA, despite a growing number of voices calling for her resignation. The Texan counts its voice among them.
An average of 1,213 Texans are killed in accidents caused by drunk drivers every year, according to the anti-drunk driving advocacy group MADD. Indeed, the organization reports that 40 percent of all traffic fatalities in Texas are caused by drunk drivers. Lehmberg is lucky that her “acting unreasonably” didn’t lead to an accident, or worse.
And although nobody was injured as a result of Lehmberg’s drunk driving, her violation of such an important and serious law is enough to warrant her resignation.
During her arrest, Lehmberg refused to submit to a field sobriety test, and details about her blood alcohol content (BAC) have not been made public. Currently, Lehmberg faces up to six months of jail time and a $2,000 fine, but if test results show a BAC of 0.15 or higher, her punishments will be more severe.
Fines and jail time are the repercussions that Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County resident, faces as a result of her reckless decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. However, Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County district attorney, has a greater responsibility as a public official. We look to our elected leaders as role models who should hold themselves to high standards worthy of their positions. Lehmberg violated those standards and no longer deserves to enjoy the privilege of her elected title.
Everyone makes mistakes, and Lehmberg’s arrest should not overshadow the contributions she has made as DA. But those whose job it is to enforce rules that exist for the well-being of the public must take special care not to break them.
Already, lawmakers at the Capitol have politicized the issue, with Republicans calling for Lehmberg, a Democrat, to resign and Democrats pointing out that Republican Gov. Rick Perry would be the one to appoint a replacement if she leaves office.
In our eyes this issue is much more straightforward and must be treated accordingly. Lehmberg committed a crime — one that put lives at risk. Rather than cloud that transgression in partisan politics, all public officials regardless of party affiliation should call on Lehmberg to demonstrate unequivocally that drunk driving is completely unacceptable by resigning.