Dwyer dishes on his proposal to suspend lawmakers serving jail time, chances of re-election

Del. Don Dwyer isn't sure he will be re-elected in 2014. But he's going to try.

Dwyer is currently serving weekends in jail as part of a 60-day sentence for an incident of drunken boating and a separate incident of drunken driving.

In a 10-minute interview with The Capital on Wednesday, the Pasadena Republican dished on what inspired him to propose legislation last week that would automatically suspend lawmakers serving jail time.

Dwyer also spoke about how he feels he's perceived by his constituents, his chances to win re-election and the possibility of running against former county executive John Leopold in District 31B.

Here's what he said:

What inspired you to propose House Bill 733, which would make a 60-day jail sentence and a 28-day in-patient rehab program mandatory for any lawmaker convicted of drunken driving?

Dwyer: "The stipulations that are in that bill as a mandatory minimum sentence are something that I personally have benefited from. Everything that was handed down to me in the way of the sentence, even though some people think it was really harsh, has been a benefit to me in many, many ways both professionally and personally.

"The month that I spent in the in-patient rehab gave me the tools and ability to deal with my issues and gave me the opportunity to rely on something other than alcohol to deal with those problems. ... I think that should be part of the minimum mandatory sentence in general in regards to alcohol convictions... even being in (jail) has given me insight into that world which most of us as legislators never get to experience, so there's even value in that side of it."

How about House Bill 734, the constitutional amendment you have proposed that would automatically suspend any lawmaker serving jail time?

Dwyer: "It's pretty simple. Before session started, in your newspaper, (House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis) stated that he thought the law needed to be changed so again in the future if a situation like this should occur - there would be a mechanism for removal. At this point there isn't such a mechanism and after I thought about it, I thought 'who better than me to put in such a bill?'

"The one thing that was mentioned is that the Speaker had no intention of putting that bill in, or even pushing for it. Why would you make the statement that you thought it was necessary that the law be changed, and then not be willing to go forward with it?"

What do you think the chances are either bill will pass?

Dwyer: "I'm hopeful that on both of these pieces of legislation, my colleagues would recognize that we should be, as everybody has stated -- as elected officials, we should be held to a higher standard. I agree with that, and I've been the example of that.

"And I think it's a good thing. But I think it needs to be universal across the General Assembly -- that we not only say we should be held to a higher standard, but that we're willing to commit in law that we will be held to a higher standard... If that's the case, both of these bills should fly through the General Assembly. Let's see what happens...

"I'm saying let's be held accountable. ... Because that's what the public wants of us. I can tell you personally, and I mean this, I have benefited -- absolutely benefited - by what I went through.

"I can tell you right this minute, I will never ever drink a drop of alcohol and get behind a car for as long as I live. I will not do it. It damn near destroyed my life. For a variety of reasons, not only my life -- my career, everything. So, can I recover from it? I don't know. It's up to the voters."

Speaking of the election, are you running for re-election?

Dwyer: Aw, heck yea.

How do you feel the public perceives you in your district?

Dwyer: "It's very warm. People in my district like me because of who I am and what I do to represent them in the legislature. There are some people that -- no matter what I do -- they're going to hate me. I got 'em, you know (laughs). I've got the bulletproof vest to prove it. But there's people that hate me and they're never going to like me no matter I do -- no matter what bills I support and what bills I fight."

What about the prospect of former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold running for delegate in your office, against you?

Dwyer: It won't bother me a bit.

Do you think you have the support to beat him out?

Dwyer: "Who knows. He's going to have negatives too, and his negatives are different than mine. His were malfeasance in office. Mine had nothing to do with my elected office. I didn't abuse the power that I hold. Mine was all personal and those issues are different, so we'll see how the public responds to it.

"What wins elections? Name recognition. I got a lot of it. A lot of it's not good, but I've got it. I probably rank No. 1 in name recognition. Leopold's probably just behind me, I would guess. He's been around a long time."

What are you doing outside of your work in the legislature right now? Are you working?

Dwyer: "No. Try getting a job doing what I do, taking the positions I take. It's very difficult to find employment. And, you know, with the jail stuff it's only going to get harder."

When the ban on fundraising is lifted for elected officials after the General Assembly's 90-day session, what are your plans for campaigning for re-election?

Dwyer: "I've got 20-some thousand dollars. At this point in the campaign, it's more than I've usually had. So I'm doing fine. Not worried about it. I've got an inventory of signs that I've kept from the last campaign -- and that's a big expense. Signs are thousands of dollars and I've got all mine. They're all in a barn in Pasadena waiting for me to pick them up. And as soon as we pick them up, we'll start putting them up -- and away we'll go."

In our district, I think the race is really going to be won in the primary because the district now is so heavy with Republicans, the way they tried to cut me out (in redistricting). Well, they did cut me out. That's why I had to move. But I moved right into the heart of the most conservative area in the county, and who's the most conservative guy in the state (points to himself). So it can work. We'll see.

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