Sen. Chuck Graham, under pressure from Republicans to resign following his drunk driving arrest last weekend, said he doesn’t have a drinking problem and has no plans to ditch his re-election campaign.
“This is an opportunity for me to emerge as a better person who is healthy and a strong public servant,” the Columbia Democrat said. “I don’t think I have a problem.” Graham said he has not drank alcohol since Oct. 20. “I’m not drinking, and I’m excited about it. I’m excited about having improved physical and mental health.”
Graham, a first-term state senator and assistant Democratic floor leader, spoke individually to reporters in a conference room at Mizzou Arena before a fundraiser at the posh quarters of the Clinton Club.
Outside, members of Mizzou College Republicans protested, holding signs that read: “Do you need a ride home, Chuck?” and “Lawmaker or Lawbreaker?” About a dozen members of the College Democrats and Young Democrats of Missouri gathered with signs of their own in support of a legislator who, they said, has been a friend to Columbia’s higher education community.
“Of course it’s unfortunate when anyone gets a DWI, but you have to weigh his one mistake against his entire legislative record in support of students,” said Rick Puig, a 19-year-old MU sophomore and president of Young Democrats of Missouri.
Graham, 42, was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and careless and imprudent driving late Oct. 20 after he rear-ended a car near the corner of West Green Meadows Road and Bethel Street.
After the accident, Graham, who is paralyzed from the chest down, went to University Hospital with pain in his arm. According to an arrest report, Graham repeatedly did not give a breath sample when asked to take a Breathalyzer test. He was later ordered to submit a blood sample to police.
The police report detailing Graham’s arrest also described a heated encounter between a Columbia police officer and University Hospital officials over a container of Graham’s urine, which was seized as evidence. Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm has defended the officer involved while hospital administrators say their personnel followed appropriate policy.
Graham declined to discuss the accident or what happened at the hospital, calling it a criminal matter.
“It’s a serious, ongoing situation and not something I can talk about it,” he said.
But in his first public interviews since the accident, Graham confirmed that he would not resign his Senate seat or his leadership post amid pressure from critics.
“I don’t know if people will drop their support of me,” Graham said. “I’m sure some will but it’s time for me to earn back some respect I may have lost and serve the people of my district.”
Mizzou College Republicans President Jordan Clementi said her group decided to protest Graham’s Friday night fundraiser after reading through the police report.
“Mr. Graham downplayed the whole DWI incident,” Clementi said. “It’s extremely serious, and it’s obvious he received special treatment because of who he is.”
Graham said he decided not to cancel the fundraiser because of the amount of planning that had been involved.
One item scrapped from the plan was a cash bar that was previously advertised on invitation fliers, a Graham spokesman said.
Mike Boland, a spokesman and lobbyist for the Missouri chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Graham exploited “semantics” in not submitting to a breath test while he went to the hospital.
“From reading the report, he had ample time to submit to a test, and he just refused,” Boland said. “We can only hope that he loses his license and ability to drive.”
On Friday, Graham said the past six months have been “difficult,” alluding to his father, Andrew Graham Sr.’s death from cancer in September.
“A whole lot of my life has been difficult,” Graham said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. I’m going to learn from this, both personally and professionally.”
Graham was paralyzed in 1981 after a single-car accident in his hometown of Louisiana, Mo. Investigators said alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
Graham, then 16, was driving with four friends and speeding, according to an accident report. The car skidded off the road after a bad turn and crashed into a utility pole before turning over on its roof and landing on a wire fence.
Graham was ejected from the vehicle and was the only person seriously injured in the crash.
— Missourian reporter Justin O’Neil contributed to this report.