ST. PAUL, Minn. - Decades-old drunken driving charges against Republican Rep. Tom Emmer drew new attention and accusations of political mischief Wednesday in the Minnesota governor's race.
Emmer accused rival Republican Marty Seifert of bringing up his DWI arrests from 1981 and 1991 to damage his campaign about a week before the party picks a candidate, calling it an act of desperation. Emmer and Seifert are locked in a tight campaign ahead of the pivotal state GOP endorsing convention on April 30.
A letter to GOP convention delegates from a Seifert supporter said Emmer hadn't been forthcoming about his past, and it questioned his judgment for proposing last year to undo a law that revokes licenses upon arrest rather than conviction on DWI charges.
In a pair of statements issued Wednesday, Emmer said his past transgressions are publicly known through past news reports. He previously acknowledged a DWI-related ticket in 1981; court records show he pleaded guilty to a careless driving offense a decade later and a DWI charge was dismissed.
"Drinking and driving is unacceptable," he said in one written statement.
He also released a campaign video of him discussing personal mistakes without mentioning the reason for his contrition.
"The question is not whether I have ever made a mistake," Emmer, 49, said in the video. "The question is what do we do with the mistakes that we've made. What do we learn from them and what do we do with our lives after? This is why I say, in my life God gave me a wakeup call."
The letter at issue was signed by Sandra Berg of Taylors Falls, but distributed at Seifert campaign expense. Berg disclosed in the letter that her husband and son were severely injured by a drunk driver last year and are still coping with the fallout.
She said fellow delegates need to be aware of Emmer's past and understand it could be used against him during a general election campaign.
"We all know that good people make mistakes, and that Tom Emmer's arrests were made some time ago," Berg wrote. "But to the Democrats, the liberal news media and left-wing bloggers who create and then spread 'news' for widespread circulation, that won't matter."
Berg didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Seifert campaign manager Kurt Daudt released a statement confirming the campaign's role in getting the letter out. Seifert advisers declined to address Emmer's claim that the letter was underhanded.
"Sandra's letter provides factual information about a vital issue for the delegates to consider: the electability and credibility of candidates," Daudt said.
The letter details a bill Emmer sponsored in 2009 would have delayed license revocation and other administrative sanctions for suspected drunken drivers until a conviction or guilty plea. Now, a license is revoked for drivers who fail sobriety tests or refuse to submit to them. The bill stalled in committee.
An unsuccessful Emmer amendment to a different bill last year would have made DWI records private data after 10 years.
Seifert's campaign and the Berg letter said the changes would weaken state DWI deterrence. Berg told fellow Republican delegates the bill exposed "a potential political blind-spot and lack of self-awareness" by Emmer.
Emmer's campaign maintains he was pursuing the revocation change on behalf of local prosecutors concerned about costs to the court system. It denied Emmer was seeking to retroactively help himself.