Political Notebook

Arambula’s college-era DUI becomes 31st Assembly campaign issue

Fresno Republican Clint Olivier, left, and Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula are battling to win the 31st Assembly District seat vacated a year early by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. Olivier says Arambula agreed voluntarily to limit his campaign spending, but then spent above that limit.
Fresno Republican Clint Olivier, left, and Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula are battling to win the 31st Assembly District seat vacated a year early by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. Olivier says Arambula agreed voluntarily to limit his campaign spending, but then spent above that limit. Fresno Bee file

Seventeen years ago, when Joaquin Arambula was in Fresno during a Christmas break from college on the East Coast, he was stopped and cited for driving under the influence of alcohol. His blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly twice California’s legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Now 38 and a candidate for the state Assembly, the incident has become campaign fodder as Arambula, a Kingsburg Democrat, battles Fresno Republican Clint Olivier and Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller. The special election to fill the 31st District seat is Tuesday, though around 12 percent of voters already have cast ballots.

There have been mail pieces about the incident.

“As an emergency room doctor, he sees the horrific outcomes of dangerous driving, but that didn’t stop Joaquin Arambula from getting repeated convictions,” a mailer paid for by the California Republican Party says. It then highlights the DUI as well as a speeding ticket in which Arambula was driving 85 mph in a 50 mph zone.

The ad makes a reference to the number of people killed or injured in DUI accidents in 2013. But it does not point that out Arambula’s arrest happened 17 years ago.

The Arambula campaign looks at it as negative campaigning. Arambula himself owns up to the incident, which ended with him pleading to a reduced charge of “wet reckless.”

I made a mistake. I owned it. I accepted it. I accepted responsibility for it and I moved on.

Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, who is running for the 31st Assembly District

“I made a mistake,” Arambula said in an interview. “I owned it. I accepted it. I accepted responsibility for it and I moved on.”

He also noted it was “a half lifetime ago,” that he has grown and matured and – just as the GOP ad says – as an emergency room doctor has “seen firsthand the perils of drunk driving.”

“It changed me and it will be a mistake I will never make again,” Arambula said.

Tim Orman, Olivier’s campaign consultant, said it’s fair game to highlight the arrest.

Arambula’s record, he said, is “everything he’s done now and in the past … how else do you get information unless you look at the sum total of his experiences and what he’s done and hasn’t done. Even though it was 17 years ago, it goes to who he is.”

Rich McIntyre, Arambula’s campaign manager, accused the Olivier campaign and the Republican Party of taking the low road in the campaign.

“We could have gone negative on our opponents’ personal life, and we chose not to,” he said. “We chose to focus on the issues.”

How else do you get information unless you look at the sum total of his experiences and what he’s done and hasn’t done? Even though it was 17 years ago, it goes to who he is.

Tim Orman, campaign consultant for Fresno Republican Clint Olivier, on why bringing up the DUI issue is fair game

Orman said McIntyre and Arambula are hypocrites.

He pointed to an ad sponsored by an independent group not affiliated with the Arambula campaign, but one that is working to get him elected. That ad, from Californians for Fiscal Accountability and Responsibility, highlighted comments Olivier made about water during a lengthy radio interview last year.

In the ad, Olivier talks about clean drinking water being a luxury and not a right. Olivier has said his comments were selectively edited and then reassembled to make him sound heartless.

Olivier earlier in the campaign had called on Arambula to repudiate the ads. Arambula in turn said he did not condone the ads, but added that they “raise a serious issue. Time and time again Councilman Olivier has stated he does not believe that the people of the Central Valley have a right to clean air and clean water.”

And that, to Orman, is negative campaigning.

“When your surrogates and allies do something that is negative and you don’t do anything about it, you are accepting it and approving it,” he said. “So in that respect the Arambula campaign is one of the most cynical and negative campaigns I’ve seen in years.”

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