GOP Senate Challenger McGavick Reveals Drunken Driving Incident

August 29, 2006

Republican U.S. Senate challenger and former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick, in a remarkable confession of what he called his personal and political shortcomings, revealed a drunken driving incident and discussed his divorce, a political dirty trick and payroll slashing at his old insurance company, Safeco.

The divorce, his regret over an earlier campaign tactic, and layoffs at Safeco Insurance Co. had all been noted in previous campaign coverage. Word of the DUI in 1993 was new, as was his overall decision to publicly discuss his shortcomings.

McGavick said he had no indication that opponents were about to divulge the drunken driving incident or any other things he mentioned.

His comments came in an interview with The Associated Press and he later covered the same topics in “an open letter from Mike” on his campaign blog.

McGavick, who retired from Safeco to run against Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, formerly was campaign director for Republican Slade Gorton’s successful Senate run in 1988. He later served as Gorton’s Senate chief of staff and then became a consultant and lobbyist for the insurance industry and finally a top leader of two insurance companies.

Cantwell edged Gorton from office six years ago. Cantwell allies have criticized McGavick’s tenure at Safeco and his “golden parachute” of $28 million as he left the company where he sacked part of the work force.

Both McGavick and Cantwell have challengers in their respective primaries on Sept. 19, but are heavily favored to win their nominations. Cantwell leads in the polls, but both parties and most analysts foresee a potentially close race. Six years ago, Cantwell won by fewer than 2,300 votes out of over 2 million cast.

State Democratic Party spokesman Kelly Steele said he was surprised by McGavick’s public revelation, and declined to speculate about the GOP candidate’s motives. He said the Democrats had nothing to do with the revelations.

Cantwell’s campaign had no immediate comment.

McGavick noted steady criticism from the Democrats, and told the AP, “I just felt that given some of the stuff out there, that I was better off to just make clear that I know I am not without faults.

“I’m trying to get this kind of stuff out there and focus on the issues that matter. …

“Look, I don’t claim to have been perfect, I just claim to be improving. … We all make mistakes and I can’t rate these, relative to others’, but you have to learn from them.”

The mistakes don’t disqualify him from office, he said.

“I believe I have a wealth of experience to bring to service in the United States Senate,” he said. “I’ve had success in the private and public sectors. It’s true, I’ve made mistakes, and learned from that.”

He said he hopes voters will judge both candidates based on their views on issues.

A look at his confessions:
-In the drunken driving incident, he said he had been to several parties and made the mistake of getting behind the wheel. He said he blew a 0.17 percent on the blood alcohol meter — far above the state legal intoxication threshold. The current threshold is 0.08. He said he paid a fine — he can’t remember how much — and didn’t spend any time in jail.

He got a deferred prosecution, agreed to a year’s probation and alcohol education, and said the charge was dropped at the end of the year.

“I had just had too much to drink, it’s just that simple,” he said in the interview. “I made a terrible lapse in judgment.”

McGavick said he has no drinking problem, then or now, and is a social drinker.

-His first marriage unraveled in the early 1990s when McGavick was serving as Gorton’s Senate staff director. His wife, Kim Rainey, moved home to Pennsylvania with their 2-year-old son and he ended up being a part-time dad, he said.

“I was heartsick” and felt a deep sense of personal failure, he said. He said he met his second wife, Gaelynn, about two years later.

Why did his first marriage break up?

“My first wife and I ended up not liking each other very much. It was that simple.”

-Campaign tactics. He said he greatly regretted the decision to continue running a television ad in 1988 against Gorton’s unsuccessful Democratic rival, Mike Lowry, accusing him of supporting legalization of marijuana.

The ad was based on a University of Washington campus newspaper article that was quickly called into question after the ad started airing, he said. The ad aired for a week, even after reporters told Gorton’s campaign the article was wrong.

“We should have pulled it once evidence mounted that the Daily article was not an accurate reflection of his views,” McGavick said in the blog posting.

His current campaign has stressed the need for civility, and he said in the interview, “We were advertising in ways that I wouldn’t today. We won’t run those kinds of ads.”

-Layoffs. New CEO McGavick said he had to lay off 1,200 employees, about a 10th of the payroll, in order to try to save the company he took over. What he faults himself for wasn’t that, but rather his statement at the end of 2001 that the crisis was over, leading people to believe no more layoffs would be necessary. But then came another 500 layoffs. Overall, “the heartwrenching decisions to let people go will stay with me forever,” he said.

“I do apologize for my mistakes and shortcomings,” he said in his blog letter.

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