Saint Louis — The Missouri Times sat down with Rep. Dave Hinson during the House Republican Summer caucus meeting to discuss his recent guilty plea in a DWI case stemming from a fender-bender he had last winter. Hinson pled guilty earlier this week, but maintains his innocence and says he took the deal because it was the best offer he got from the prosecutor. Hinson denies he was impaired that evening and blames slick road conditions for the accident and political calculations for his suddenly-public prosecution. We sat down for a Q&A with Hinson.
The Missouri Times: So, can you tell us what happened on Feb. 2?
Hinson: I had been out to dinner in Columbia and was dropped off in the Capitol garage. As I was leaving, it was February, and I was coming out there was a slick spot there and I slid. I knew the truck was there, I thought I’d missed it and went up against the curb. I backed up and pulled out and didn’t see any damage to the vehicle, so as I got down the street I got a call from someone who had followed me out and said it looked like I was leaking something. I pulled over and noticed I had damage to the front end and one of the radiator lines was leaking. So I pulled down the street to where he lived and parked and was going to just get a tow truck and go in the next morning and tell Capitol Police that I had hit this truck.
TMT: Do you regret calling the Capitol Police the next morning?
Hinson: Well no, because that was the right thing to do. I just, I didn’t think it was a big deal for me. I was on my employer’s property, it was my employer’s vehicle, there was nobody in it, and so I didn’t see the issue to waiting until the next morning. I knew there hadn’t been any significant damage to the truck because I would have seen it as I backed out.
TMT: It sounds like the administration was pretty aggressive about pursuing this as a criminal situation, was that your take?
Hinson: All I can say is that the conversations that took place from the Capitol Police to the prosecutor, everything that I heard was that they were pursing stringent charges. Technically, I could have been charged with a felony because one bid that the Office of Administration got was for $1,100 and anything over a grand can be filed as a felony. Was it the Capitol Police or OA that was pushing for this? I don’t know. From my understanding, someone in the administration tipped off the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that there had been this incident in February, and ever since that time, the prosecutor basically dug in and gave me three options, all of which were bad.
TMT: You’ve worked with the other side of the aisle; you’ve been seen as a bipartisan legislator. Were you surprised that OA would kind of be sticklers in this situation?
Hinson: It did. In politics you don’t know who is pulling the strings, and I’m a very upfront person, and sometimes I don’t use the most politically correct vocabulary. At committee or something I could have maybe said something that somebody didn’t appreciate.
TMT: Will this make you revisit how you handle situations like that?
Hinson: It’ll make me very skeptical of who within the administration I communicate with and feel like I have a good relationship with. You always hear about playing big boy politics, and when you’re not involved you just hear about it. But the past few weeks, it has been the dirty politics.
TMT: So I assume your insurance paid the bill for the damage?
Hinson: My insurance promptly processed and paid. The one thing that was odd about the whole situation looking back on it, is that morning the Capitol Police officer never asked me for my driver’s license and he never did ask me for my insurance. I just think that’s lack of training, those guys don’t get a whole lot of training in general law enforcement because they are looked at more as security officers. I really think that needs to be looked at as far as they either need to stick to issuing parking tickets and providing security within the Capitol buildings or they need to be truly trained for law enforcement.
TMT: After you reported it, you spoke with the police. Do you regret talking to the police?
Hinson: No, I don’t. I reported it about 6:30 or 7 in the morning but it wasn’t until about 9 that the officer showed up.
TMT: Was the investigation still open when the Post-Dispatch reported it?
Hinson: No, from my understanding, the prosecutor had received something somewhere near the end of February and it had just been sitting there.
TMT: Was there a difference in how people handled it after the Post broke the story?
Hinson: Oh definitely, just because, you know, with everything that was going on. About the same time the Post broke this was about the same time that Senator LeVota was getting hit. The people in the political circle, it made sense as to why it all came out at once, because you had a Democrat that was getting ready to get under fire for this sexual harassment thing.
TMT: Anything you took away from this that impacts how you view Jefferson City?
Hinson: If you’re in the opposite party of whatever party is in power, you can’t always assume that you’re in a good relationship with them or won’t be used for political purposes. There’s nothing that leads to the governor himself being involved with this at all, so I don’t want to say that, but there’s people underneath him that are partisan to a point. I got a good dose of what true politics is like.
TMT: There’s been a lot of talk about the toxic culture of Jefferson City. Do you think there’s a culture of toxicity that’s different in 2015 from 1985 or 1965?
Hinson: From hearing the old stories about the way it used to be, I would say it’s been cleaned up a lot. We have 197 members in the General Assembly. Like any employer that has that many people involved in any situation, you’re going to have a percentage of people who do something that is going to make the company look bad. That’s what it is. I don’t think there’s a party atmosphere up here. There are people that go out and socialize with one another, and that’s one thing that I believe makes it different than Washington D.C. People will get together on both sides of the aisle and can have a conversation. Just look at last year and the veto override of the governor. On almost every vote, we had bipartisan support.
TMT: Does the new heightened scrutiny that is on politicians and their social lives make it harder to foster those social, bipartisan relationships?
Hinson: It does. I’ve sponsored what people would call controversial bills. I was a sponsor on a sex offender bill, the legalization of medical marijuana, the highway transportation funding bill, and I had to forge bipartisan relationships to have a vote, and most of that is because I know what that person does in their off time, that they have kids, and what their background is. We are all people up there trying to make a difference and just because I don’t believe in your ideological thinking doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Right now politics is so polarized with that, I think that the federal level it’s why they can’t get anything done, and I think that’s why in Jefferson City, we can come together and get things done.
TMT: You spoke to caucus today about the entire situation. How did it go?
Hinson: It went well. I apologized to them because it raises another black eye to his caucus. But I wanted them to hear the full story, so see how minor the damage was to the vehicle, I took a picture, as of yesterday it is still not fixed. I truly thought everything was done until two weeks ago. As a father and a husband I have to protect my family and unfortunately that’s what I had to do by going the route that I did.
TMT: Any of this impact your thoughts on re-election?
Hinson: Definitely not. If I had a sense that I wasn’t trying to do the right thing for my people back home and my state, I wouldn’t do it, but I’m up there for the right reasons.
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email email@example.com or via Twitter at @CMReischman