The Republican-endorsed congressional candidate in the St. Paul area, Teresa Collett, has had two run-ins with the law in recent years while driving under the influence of alcohol, according to police records.
The University of St. Thomas law professor is pursuing the seat held by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents the Fourth Congressional District. Collett's encounters with law enforcement while intoxicated -- an arrest for drunken driving and a citation for careless driving -- are rare for an endorsed congressional candidate in Minnesota.
In an interview Tuesday, Collett acknowledged that she had been drinking but also was taking an antidepressant for menopause-related migraines that she said exacerbated the effects of the alcohol.
Collett said she told the district's GOP leadership about both incidents before officials endorsed her. State Republican Party chair Tony Sutton learned about it when she called him about a month ago -- after the endorsement.
"I said, 'Look, you make mistakes, you make amends for those mistakes and you move on,' " Sutton said on Tuesday. "She's a human being. And I don't think this detracts one bit from her ability to serve in the Congress and to do a great job for the people of the Fourth District."
Collett was arrested for drunken driving in May 2006, after a motorist spotted her car weaving back and forth on a road near Minnetonka and called police. An officer later observed Collett's car drifting into the oncoming lane.
Collett's blood-alcohol content was 0.17 percent -- more than twice the 0.08 percent legal limit -- and the officer ended a field sobriety test prematurely because Collett repeatedly lost her balance, according to a police report.
The 53-year-old Oklahoma native told police she had traveled to a wine bar after meeting with a St. Thomas dean and consumed "at least three glasses of wine" before driving home, the report states.
"Ms. Collett told me that she was supposed to have a talk with her husband tonight about her drinking," the officer wrote.
Collett later pleaded guilty to the drunken-driving charge, which carried a 30-day workhouse sentence that was converted to two days of community service and two years of probation.
"I stood in front of the judge and said, 'Yes, ma'am, I'm guilty' and it was probably the single most humiliating day of my life," Collett said.
She could not recall if her license was suspended, but remembers family members having to drive her to work for a period of time after the arrest. Collett said that for her community service she mowed graveyards.
In February 2006, Collett was cited for careless driving near Duluth. She drove her car into a snowbank while on a cell phone, according to police records. According to the police report, a state trooper determined her blood-alcohol level was 0.083 percent -- slightly above the legal limit -- but let her off with a careless driving citation. Collett said he told her to pull into a nearby gas station and wait 30 minutes before driving. She paid a small fine.
Collett said she stopped taking the medication, Effexor, in 2007. "I'm back to having the experience I had before I went into menopause and went on Effexor," she said.
An uphill battle
Collett's prominent legal career has been highlighted by fights for conservative causes, such as arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of limits on abortion rights and representing the state of Oklahoma in defense of a controversial abortion law.
She announced her run for Congress in January and Fourth District Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed her on the first ballot at their convention in April. Her fledgling campaign is focused largely on limiting the size and scope of the federal government, as well as reducing the national debt.
Even with the GOP support Collett faces a decidedly uphill battle in her longshot bid for Congress. McCollum, a five-term Democratic incumbent, has repeatedly won reelection by a wide margin.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732