Steve Nass’ statement today on Jeff Wood
Statement of Representative Steve Nass
March 16, 2010
Assembly Resolution 14, the Expulsion of Representative Jeffrey Wood
Thank you members of the Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct. It is unfortunate that this special committee had to be formed to address the dangerous conduct and disorderly behavior of Representative Jeffrey Wood, 67th Assembly District.
The introduction of 2009 Assembly Resolution 14 was the direct result of Representative Wood’s decision against the honorable choice of resignation after multiple arrests for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
It is unfortunate that the special committee opted not to question Representative Wood regarding the specifics of his dangerous conduct when he appeared before this body on March 3, 2010. Instead, some members of this special committee were more concerned with asking me questions, rather than with completing the obligations of this legislative body under the requirements of Assembly Rule 21.
Assembly Rule 21 requires the special committee to “ascertain the facts of the controversy” and to return the resolution to the Assembly with a report containing your recommendation for action. Assembly Rule 21 requires nothing of the resolution’s author. In fact, the rule provides no official role for an author or any other member of the Assembly, other than the person subject to expulsion and the special committee members.
Assembly Rule 21 uses the word “may” when referring to Representative Wood’s ability to have advice of counsel, his option to provide testimony and the possibility of cross-examination of any witness testifying in support of the charges. By introducing Assembly Resolution 14, it does not make me a “witness” in reference to the charges. I was not physically present or involved with Representative Wood during any of his inappropriate conduct. I was not aware of his personal choices when using drugs and alcohol either prior to or during the incidents in question.
The staff attorneys of the nonpartisan Legislative Council did an excellent job in obtaining the official records. These records chronicle Representative Wood’s risky decisions involving his impaired driving and his life-long conduct issues.
On December 12, 2008, Representative Jeffrey Wood was arrested by the Wisconsin State Patrol in Columbia County and charged with four misdemeanor charges:
Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated – 3rd Offense
Operating a Motor Vehicle with Prohibited Alcohol Concentration – 3rd Offense
Possession of Marijuana (THC)
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
I assume that the special committee has reviewed the police reports and significant details of Representative Wood’s dangerous conduct in Columbia County. I will save time by not repeating this information in my statement. Additionally, Representative Wood has entered into a plea deal in the Columbia County case, but has not yet been sentenced.
On September 23, 2009, Representative Jeffrey Wood was arrested by the Wisconsin State Patrol in Marathon County and charged with one misdemeanor charge:
Operating a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance – 3rd Offense
Again, I assume that the special committee has reviewed the police reports and significant details of Representative Wood’s dangerous conduct in Marathon County. I will save time by not repeating this information in my statement. It is important to note with the pending sentencing in Columbia County, that the Marathon County Case would become his 4th offense.
On October 21, 2009, Representative Wood was arrested by the Tomah Police Department in Monroe County and charged with two misdemeanor charges:
Operating While Under the Influence of an Intoxicant or Other Drug – 3rd Offense
Misdemeanor Bail Jumping
Again, I assume that the special committee has reviewed the police reports and the significant details of Representative Wood’s dangerous conduct in Monroe County. I will save time by not repeating this information in my statement. It is important to note that with the pending sentencing in Columbia County and the pending case in Marathon County that the case in Monroe County could become his 5th offense and result in a felony charge.
Representative Wood has two previous convictions for operating while intoxicated. His first conviction was in Eau Claire County for an arrest on June 2, 1990. His second conviction was in Eau Claire County for an arrest on October 26, 1991.
However, Representative Wood has had other contacts with law enforcement resulting in arrests and some convictions:
1989 – Originally, arrested for having sex with an underage minor whom he met at a party. He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
March 17, 1991 – Originally, arrested for theft by the Eau Claire Police Department. He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor for Attempted Theft.
November 28, 1991 – Originally, arrested for Retail Theft by the Eau Claire Police Department. Charge dismissed.
July 14, 1992 – Originally, arrested for Issuing Worthless Checks (Less than $500) by the Eau Claire Police Department. Charge dismissed.
On March 3, 2010, this special committee heard from Mr. John Hyland, the attorney for Representative Wood and from Representative Jeffrey Wood. As should be no surprise, Mr. Hyland presented arguments as to why Representative Wood can’t be held to account by the Wisconsin State Assembly for his dangerous conduct. Simply put, Mr. Hyland provided a very literal and narrow interpretation of the Wisconsin Constitution and the Assembly Rules.
The attorney’s position is that a member of the Legislature can’t be held to account by his colleagues for any conduct outside the State Capitol. Of course, this logic might be considered scholarly in the world of trial lawyers, but it is insulting to the people of this state who face real standards of accountability everyday.
The application of the expulsion provision in Article IV, Section 8, of the Wisconsin Constitution is the sole authority of the legislative branch of state government. Our founders deemed the only necessary standard for application was in the 2/3 vote for affirming expulsion.
These same founders also provided a unique way for voters to, in essence, “veto” an expulsion. In this same section of the state constitution, it prohibits a member of the legislature from being expelled a second time for the same cause.
In other words, the voters in that legislative district can re-hire a legislator through an election, thus reversing an expulsion decision. The ability of the voters to advance their interests and re-elect an expelled member is ample recourse for a member of the Assembly or the Senate.
The citizens that put us into office must constantly control their actions or face the consequences. In many instances, those private actions can cost fellow citizens their jobs. I believe that members of the Legislature are capable of living up to the same real world standards of conduct expected of everyone else.
Representative Wood made several statements that verify the validity of the action being taken against him. He admitted his conduct was dangerous and that he placed the lives of innocent people at risk in his statement to the special committee on March 3, 2010. He also admitted to excessive use of alcohol and misuse of controlled substances.
In fact, on March 3, 2010, Representative Wood admitted to using alcohol almost every day, at points, after the 2008 election and in 2009. He also referenced difficulties with taking very powerful prescription medications and, at times, made the decision to stop using these drugs because of the impact it had on him.
Representative Wood implied that he has problems with addiction. However, neither Representative Wood, nor his attorney, have offered any evidence to the special committee from a medical professional to support this diagnosis.
Representative Wood implied that he sought various treatments, but these efforts failed. He has stated that he is currently in treatment. However, neither he nor his attorney have provided any evidence of these treatments.
Even more bizarre, Representative Wood told the special committee that he was in a treatment facility in Tomah on October 21, 2009. He referenced being provided powerful medications and then being asked by treatment staff to go out looking for another patient that had left the facility. Later in his statement, he tells the special committee that he doesn’t recall leaving the facility, or anything else that happened that day, until he woke up in the Monroe County jail.
Why hasn’t Representative Wood provided any evidence confirming that staff asked him to go out on the streets of Tomah to find the other patient? This seems like an easy thing to prove. However, Representative Wood seems to have many stories, reasons and excuses that lack any evidence.
One common characteristic of those that misuse alcohol and drugs is for these individuals to shift blame or refocus attention onto other people. This is something we have seen from Representative Wood many times, but the strongest piece of evidence of his sad behavior is the substitute amendment he had drafted about other former legislators.
How can Representative Wood expect anyone to believe that he is on the path to recovery when his attempt is to refocus attention onto the actions of other legislators?
As a supposedly recovering alcoholic, Representative Wood seems to have not reached the step of taking responsibility and accepting the consequences of his actions. Instead, Representative Wood is now contesting the facts of his impaired state in both the Monroe County and Marathon County arrests. Any reasonable person that reviews the dash cam videotapes can see for him or herself that he was impaired and should not have been driving.
Based on the statements of witnesses to his impaired driving, the statements of law enforcement officers involved in the arrests, and the dash cam videotapes, there can be little doubt in the minds of the special committee regarding facts of this controversy.
The Assembly’s expulsion proceedings against Representative Wood are separate from the proceedings occurring in the courts. While information gathered in these separate proceedings can be useful to both inquiries, neither is required under the law or by any rule to wait for the outcome of the other process.
Representative Wood has been afforded the benefits of Assembly Rule 21. However, he opted not to use the public hearing earlier this month to offer any information or evidence that contradicts the charges of driving an automobile in an impaired state, three times within one year and a total of five times in his life.
Are we to believe that the actions being taken against him are based on some political conspiracy?
Are we to believe that the citizens and the law enforcement officers that witnessed his dangerous conduct are somehow politically motivated to get Representative Wood?
Of course not.
However, Representative Wood has, in my opinion, played the victim role in an attempt to avoid taking accountability for his actions and avoid being subjected to the appropriate consequences both in the courts and in the State Assembly. Representative Wood is a very lucky man for only facing expulsion in the Assembly and multiple charges in the courts.
He is lucky that his repeated dangerous conduct has yet to cause his death or the death of an innocent person. That luck should not make him immune from severe reactions in response to his putting lives at risk repeatedly.
His playing the victim card is truly insulting, especially to the many real victims of roadway carnage at the hands of drunk and impaired drivers. Representative Wood is no victim. He is another high profile example of the failure of the State of Wisconsin to get serious about repeat drunk and impaired drivers. He is no victim when it comes to his personal choices in using drugs and alcohol.
Representative Wood’s real intent has been to delay and avoid taking responsibility for his own personal failings. In recent weeks, he has attempted to play on the heart strings of the public by excusing his conduct and shifting blame to factors beyond his control.
He suggested that a lack of health insurance coverage is partially at fault, that his genetic make-up predisposes him to make potentially dangerous decisions, and the treatment of doctors caused his behavior. He then added a new excuse at the March 3, 2010 public hearing, when he blamed the pressures of running for re-election in 2008 as an Independent.
The facts, however, show a much different set of circumstances. His conduct includes three convictions for impaired driving and two pending cases, as well as a couple of other incidents earlier in his life involving significant personal misconduct requiring the response of law enforcement.
I know there are some on this special committee uncomfortable with referencing his past arrests in reaching this decision on his expulsion. In fairness, no person should be judged solely on a short period of their life. All of us deserve to be reviewed for the entirety of our life’s conduct and efforts. Such a full review of Representative Wood’s past should include the positive and the negative.
I only ask that you consider your constituents. Please think about the vast majority of your constituents that lead exemplary lives and follow the rules. Most of your follow citizens will never be in a situation that might result in an arrest.
Now, compare that to Representative Wood’s record including at least nine situations that resulted in his arrest and/or charges for inappropriate conduct. By his own admission, most of these situations were in some way related to his use of alcohol and/or drugs.
People should be given a second chance after paying for their improper conduct. However, in Representative Wood’s circumstances, he has had many second chances and failed to honor the moral code we must all follow in a free society. Taking personal responsibility for one’s actions is a fundamental concept in the social and legal contract we all accept as citizens.
I must also respond to the discussion from Representative Wood and his attorney regarding the issue of a recall election. While there can be many reasons why a recall process wasn’t started, one reasonable explanation is that the residents knew of the expulsion resolution and assumed that the State Assembly would take action.
For Representative Wood or his attorney to suggest that the lack of a recall process shows the unwavering support of his constituents is highly disingenuous.
The time has come for the special committee to finalize its review of the facts and recommend the expulsion of Representative Wood. I still believe that his repeated dangerous conduct warrants expulsion from the Wisconsin State Assembly. Representative Wood’s declaration that he won’t seek re-election should have no bearing on the outcome of the expulsion decision.
If you believe that his repeated misuse of alcohol and/or drugs followed by his decisions to drive is conduct that conforms to reasonable standards of ethics and moral behavior for a member of the State Assembly, then by all means don’t vote to recommend expulsion.
If you believe the repeated nature of his conduct does cross the line of ethics and moral responsibility as a member of the Assembly, then your vote to recommend expulsion should be in the affirmative.
While we may not be able to prevent further dangerous behavior by Representative Wood, we do have the power to make sure he can’t do it as a serving member of the people’s house, the Wisconsin State Assembly.
Thank you for your patience and attention.
31st Wisconsin Assembly District