California Politics: Will a Democrat’s drunk-driving arrest in Sacramento shape control of Congress?

Dave Min speaks into a microphone in front of an American flag.
State Sen. Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat running for Congress, was cited for drunk driving in Sacramento this week.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

When I started covering the state Capitol, lawmakers were getting popped for DUIs almost every year. Between 2010 and 2014, four state legislators faced charges of drunk driving, three of whom were arrested very close to the Capitol. Boozing it up at after-work cocktail parties or following late-night sessions under the dome was an obvious part of the culture for politicians in Sacramento.

Then things seemed to quiet down a bit. Maybe it had to do with the #MeToo movement that exposed pervasive sexual misconduct across society’s workplaces, including at the California Capitol. A handful of lawmakers resigned in the face of harassment allegations — some of which stemmed from after-hours work events — and lawmakers openly discussed the need to change the Capitol culture. That was followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which further dampened the party vibe as the state imposed lockdowns and Democrats emphasized social distancing.

So the late-night arrest this week of state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) felt like a bit of a throwback. It marked the first time in nearly nine years that the news media reported a California state lawmaker was accused of driving drunk in Sacramento. Records from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department show he was released from jail Wednesday morning, and Min posted this update on Facebook:


“Last night I was cited for a misdemeanor for driving under the influence. My decision to drive last night was irresponsible. I accept full responsibility and there is no excuse for my actions. To my family, constituents and supporters, I am so deeply sorry. I know I need to do better. I will not let this personal failure distract from our work in California and in Washington.”

Whether there will be significant political impacts from Min’s arrest remains to be seen. Democratic analyst Darry Sragow said he thinks voters won’t see it as a big deal because Min quickly acknowledged the mistake and apologized.

“Everything I know about the world of campaigns is that it’s not going to matter,” Sragow told me.

But the potential for a shake-up is enormous, and the political stakes are higher in a purple region like Orange County.

Min, a Democrat, is running for Congress next year in a competitive Orange County district that Republicans plan to spend heavily to flip. The seat is currently held by Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate. She narrowly won reelection last year against Republican Scott Baugh, who will be on the ballot again in 2024.

Democratic community organizer Joanna Weiss is also running, but Min had been seen as the strongest Democratic candidate. Democrat Harley Rouda, a former congressman from Laguna Beach, bowed out of the race last month to recover from a traumatic brain injury incurred in a fall.

Min’s arrest means that “Min’s chances just took a big hit, but not necessarily Democrats’ chances,” David Wasserman, a congressional forecaster for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told me.

“We won’t change our ‘Lean-D’ rating of the race based on this development.”

He pointed out that because the election is more than a year away, there is still time for Democrats to coalesce around Weiss and put up a strong fight to keep the seat.


The 47th congressional district — which includes Irvine, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach — is among a handful of swing districts in California that will help determine the balance of power in the narrowly-divided House of Representatives.

These seats are key to Democrats’ quest to reclaim control of the House, because they only need to flip five seats nationwide to win the majority. But that assumes they don’t lose any that they have now. And a Democrat’s drunk-driving arrest will be delicious fodder for Republican campaign ads.

Hours after news broke of Min’s arrest, the California Republican Party blasted out an email dubbing him “DUI Dave” and saying he had “put lives at risk when he made the reckless decision to drive drunk.”

It all adds up to this: What happens in Sacramento does not stay in Sacramento. In fact, it could wind up as a subplot in the very tight contest for control of Congress.

I’m Laurel Rosenhall, the Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, here with your guide to the week in California politics:

Few details on Feinstein’s condition

Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was diagnosed with shingles in late February and has not been back to Washington since.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

For years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has swatted down growing concerns about her health, assuring constituents largely through statements to the press that she was still capable of serving. But with her prolonged absence from the Capitol this spring due to a case of shingles, pressure is building on the 89-year-old senator and her staff to provide additional details about her condition.

So far, they have not emerged.

With Democrats holding a bare-bones majority in the Senate, they need Feinstein’s vote to confirm judges, approve Biden Cabinet nominees and potentially avert a debt ceiling default. The predicament has put into stark relief the challenge of balancing a lawmaker’s privacy against the public’s right to know about the health of their representatives, write Times political reporters Melanie Mason and Benjamin Oreskes and Washington-based reporter Cameron Joseph.

This article is essential reading for Californians grappling with the limited amount of disclosure about Feinstein’s health status that has left her 39 million constituents in the dark: Despite renewed focus on Sen. Feinstein’s health, details of her condition are scarce

And here’s our other coverage this week of Feinstein and the 2024 race to succeed her:

College students want on-campus rape care

Two young women on the UCLA campus
UCLA students Georgia Lavery Van Parijs and Julianne Lempert are advocating for a bill that would require colleges to offer students transportation to and from the nearest sexual assault forensic exam.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Most colleges in California — and across the country — do not offer rape kits on campus, reports Times staff writer Mackenzie Mays. But sexual assaults are so common on college campuses that students are advocating for better access to care.

Prior attempts at state legislation to require forensic exams on college campuses have failed, but student advocacy groups aren’t giving up. They are lobbying politicians and putting pressure on university administrators to create more on-campus treatment for sexual violence, pointing to research that shows college students are both more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to report the assault to police.

“Sexual violence is everywhere on college campuses,” UCLA student Kate Rodgers said outside the Capitol on a recent trip to Sacramento to lobby for legislation that would require most colleges to provide free transportation to and from a sexual assault forensic exam.

“The current system places the burden of coordinating care on survivors in crisis.”

Read the full article here: Most California colleges don’t offer rape kits on campus. Students demand better access to care

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