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Politics at heart of Wood fight

By Matt Pommer

Veteran state Rep. Steve Nass wants to kick state Rep. Jeff Wood out of the Legislature over Wood’s multiple arrests for driving while impaired.

The effort by Nass, a sharp-tongued Republican from Whitewater, has added a touch of soap opera drama in the Capitol as the Legislature nears the end of its two-year work schedule.

Nass has become a self-appointed czar of morality for elected officials. During his almost 20 years in the Legislature, he is best known for his criticism of the University of Wisconsin System and its spending levels.

Wood, whose district includes parts of Chippewa and Dunn counties, has been arrested several times for apparently driving while intoxicated. He said at least one of the arrests stems from a prescription drug given to him to help curb alcohol abuse.

But Wood’s biggest sin is that he left the Republican Party after the last election and became an independent. To real conservatives such as Nass, that may be the ultimate sin. Would Nass be anxious to boot Wood out of the Legislature if he had stayed in the Republican Party?

Political signs emerged when Nass sought to denounce the Democratic majority in the Assembly for not acquiescing now to oust Wood from office. Wood has indicated he won’t seek re-election this fall.

“They need his vote,” Nass said. If you can’t oust Wood, then heap criticism on Democrats.

The whole business attracted press attention, partly because the Legislature really wasn’t involved in many big issues. Television loved the story because there were police clips showing the impaired Wood falling down.

Most businesses in Wisconsin will fire an employee who repeatedly comes to the job impaired by booze or drugs. Wood was not “at work” when arrested on the OWI charges. Firing for actions away from work is less likely to occur in the private sector.

Surely it would bring arbitration under many union contracts.

The “employers” of Wood are voters in the 67th Assembly District; not Nass. Constitutional provisions provide a process to recall an elected official and face another election. That hasn’t occurred in Wood’s case.

Yes, the legislative process is different. You can be drunk and still cast votes in the Legislature. Over the years, the Legislature has been known to take an extended closed-door caucus to give a few members time to sober up.

Boozing knows no partisan lines. One night in the 1980s two Assembly leaders — one Republican and one Democrat — ended up in the Dane County jail in the same night after separate drunken driving arrests. No action was taken against them.

But that was before Nass was elected to the Legislature.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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