Georgia ReportNews

Alcohol, Cars and Guns Don’t Mix, Especially for Politicians

It’s never a good time for a politician to get arrested for driving under the influence, but it’s especially bad when the next election is less than six weeks away. That’s the situation state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) was facing in his campaign to win re-election to a fourth term.

While driving through Rabun County in northeast Georgia recently, Taylor was clocked going 72 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone and pulled over by Clayton police officer Michael Bennett.  Officer Bennett noted “an overwhelming odor of alcohol” while talking to Taylor and added that “Taylor’s face was very red and his eyes were bloodshot.” After telling the officer he had had nothing to drink, Taylor blew into a breathalyzer and was determined to have a blood alcohol level of .225, which is nearly triple the legal limit. Taylor also had a Glock 36 handgun strapped to his side, with four underage exchange students riding in his SUV. He was charged with driving under the influence, speeding and having an open alcohol container in his Hyundai Santa Fe.  

One of the oddest aspects of the incident was that Taylor got out of his SUV as the police officer was approaching the vehicle. When Bennett told Taylor, who was wearing his firearm, to return to the vehicle, Taylor refused. Only after Bennett ordered him a second time to get back in the vehicle did Taylor comply. There are jurisdictions where an armed suspect who refuses to obey a police order will find himself being either shot or thrown flat on the ground and forcibly restrained. That didn’t happen in this instance. Taylor is a very lucky man.

There are all sorts of ironies here, starting with the fact that one of the people entrusted with writing the laws of this state was himself charged with breaking those laws.

You can add the irony of Taylor being arrested just weeks after his Republican colleagues passed a bill that will allow students attending public colleges to carry firearms on campus. Many college students, being young and emotionally immature, have a tendency to imbibe large quantities of alcoholic beverages. The proposed law will allow those hard-drinking college students to carry firearms like a Glock 36 as they walk about their campuses. As Taylor demonstrated, mature grownups have no business getting drunk when they’re carrying a handgun, let alone kids.  

Taylor is not the first legislator to encounter problems from too much of that demon rum.  Generally speaking, it doesn’t end well for a politician in that situation. Rep. David Graves (R-Macon), who was once the chairman of the committee that regulates the liquor industry, was arrested twice in 11 months on drunken driving charges. He decided not to run for re-election. Rep. Kip Smith (R-Columbus) was nailed by Atlanta police on a DUI charge prior to the 2012 primary elections and was subsequently defeated by John Pezold. Rep. Chuck Sims (R-Ambrose) was popped twice on DUI charges in 2013 and didn’t run again.

Taylor chairs the MARTA overview committee and is a favorite of Speaker David Ralston. He has a fairly moderate voting record—he was one of the few Republicans, oddly enough, who didn’t vote for the campus carry bill.

Taylor is opposed by political activist Tom Owens in the upcoming GOP primary, so the arrest comes at a very inopportune time for him. Owens has raised only $514 in campaign contributions, but the DUI arrest gives him a potent campaign issue—he’s already sent out a news release denouncing Taylor as “unfit to hold the office of Georgia state representative.”

Taylor so far says he will stay in the race: “This was my first run-in with the law in my life, and it will also be my last.” Will it also be his last term in office?