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Miller needn't resign over drunk-driving charge

by Mike McFeely

North Dakota Democrats smell blood in the water and are circling North Dakota state Sen. Joe Miller, a conservative Republican from Park River, saying he should resign because he got nailed for drunken-driving and open bottle in Walsh County. It is Miller's second alcohol-related driving offense. He also has a reckless driving/open bottle on his record.

There are also some Republicans who would like to see Miller resign (and don't mind at all that he is being pulled through the wringer) because the fervently pro-life/morally judgmental Miller trashed fellow Republican Curtis Olafson in a primary to win the Senate seat.

Miller needn't resign.

While drinking and driving is a deplorable act, it is not grounds for an automatic resignation of a legislative seat. Miller says he hopes everyone will forgive him, that he is moving forward and that he can still be an effective legislator despite getting caught drinking and driving. We'll have to take him at his word.

Part of what is happening here, of course, is politics. Democrats, in a woeful minority in North Dakota, are looking for any dirt at all they can hold against Republicans. That is fair and, frankly, appropriate. Miller is an elected official and if he makes a mistake he should expect to be held accountable by the opposing party and the public.

But part of the story, too, is Miller's personal beliefs and politics. He is part of the far-right, Tea Party wing of the Republican Party that is all to willing to morally judge others and tell people how to live their lives. Miller and his brethren are not shy about imposing their morals and beliefs (religious and otherwise) on others. They play the morality card at every opportunity. So when Miller gets caught driving drunk it is easy to throw the morality card back in his face. It's fun, too, because it does outline the hypocrisy of so many right-wingers: Live as I say, not as I do.

That fight should take place in Miller's next election, if he decides to run again, in 2016. If Democrats can put up a viable candidate against him, by all means use the drunk-driving offenses against him. Again and again and again. If Republicans want to give Miller a taste of his own medicine, they should throw everything they have against him in a 2016 challenge. Fellow Republican Curtis Olafson, who Miller essentially called a "baby killer" to win his seat, should be very willing to run against Miller and use whatever means necessary to win.

In the meantime, let's hope Miller is sincere in changing his ways. And wouldn't it be nice if he returned to Bismarck in 2015 and led the charge for even tougher drunken-driving laws? Maybe he could team with the leader in those bills, Rep. Ed Gruchalla (D-Fargo), to put some sharp teeth in laws that, even after improvements in this year's session, remain weak.

That would be turning a mistake into something positive.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)