Missouri Senator arrested in suspicion of driving while intoxicated
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Missouri Senator arrested in suspicion of driving while intoxicated

Date: October 22, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -  The last Missouri legislator arrested for drunken driving offered Sen. Chuck Graham words of wisdom after he was arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. 

Former Rep. Tom Burcham, R-Farmington, had a similar experience when he was arrested in April of 2002 and again in September for driving while intoxicated. Burcham was arrested a second time before he decided against running for reelection. "Alcoholism ended my political career," Burcham said Monday.

According to police reports, Graham was arrested for driving while intoxicated after, according to the police report, he rear-ended a vehicle in an accident near his home in Columbia Saturday night..

Despite the cut-throat atmosphere in politics, Burcham said he believes that Graham will have no problem getting support from his fellow senators.

"I have no doubt that the folks that are in the state Senate and the folks that are in General Assembly as a whole will be personally supportive to Sen. Graham, and they should be."

But Republican Burcham warned that Democrat Graham could face political heat.  "When I was in the legislature, the Democrats wanted to take advantage of my falls and I would expect the Republicans to want to take advantage of Chuck Graham's falls...It's the way we hold each other accountable."

Burcham served in the legislature just one term of two years -- 2001 to 2002 -- when Graham also was serving in the House.

Meanwhile the Senate's Democratic leader, Sen. Maida Coleman, also referred to the bi-partisan support among legislators.  "We are a family whether we are Democrat or Republican, and we are supportive of each other."

But the St. Louis Democrat did not rule out the possibility of political consequences for the Senate's assistant Democratic leader.  "We will stand by the decisions that he makes, and hopefully this works out in his favor," Coleman said.  "At this time I think it's premature to expect Sen. Graham's leadership position to be in danger. He has not been found guilty of anything, and I believe that this is a legal process that should be handled by the legal system."

As for Graham's committee assignments, Coleman said "I don't think this is the appropriate time to consider removing Sen. Graham from any committees. He has not had the legal process work its way through."

Coleman said she, alone, makes committee assignments for Senate Democrats.  She said she would remove a member only if the member requested removal or if the entire Democratic Caucus raised the issue.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D- Kansas City, said that senators do not talk negatively about other senators while they are in tough situations.

On the other side of the aisle came words of sympathy from Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin.  "If he has a problem, I hope he's able to deal with it, get some help for it and get it corrected."

Nodler stressed that before the legal case is concluded, it was premature to discuss any repercussions to Graham's roles in the Senate. 

However, the southwest Republican did talk about the political possibilities.  "To some extent, it's up to the people of...that district, to determine what their values and expectations are of their elected officials.  And that may vary from one part of the state to another.  So that's kind of up to the folks in Columbia to determine."

Graham's seat is up for election in 2008.  While he has not officially announced for reelection, his October financial disclosure report indicated he had raised more than $27,000.  Contributors to his campaign includes Anheuser Busch, Missouri Beer Wholesalers Assoc. and the Missouri Professional Bail Bonds Association.

Graham was unavailable for comment Monday. 

He is the second Democratic senator to face misdemeanor charges this year.  Last month, Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, was charged with using a false ID to enter the Boonville gambling casino.

Graham was paralyzed below the waste from a car accident when he was 16 years old -- an injury to which he has referred when debating in support of stem-cell research.

The Columbia Democrat was profiled in the New York Times in August 2007 in an article about the Stem Cell research debate in Missouri.