State Sen. Phil Griego, D-Los Alamos, has a big résumé. It includes stints in former US Sen. Pete Domenici’s, R-NM, office, as Santa Fe’s mayor pro tem and, less illustriously, as a habitual drunk driver. After getting caught, he helped pass New Mexico’s ignition interlock law. Now the 60-year-old real estate agent is among the more credible voices on how to deal with DWI—a vital concern, after the June 28 crash on Old Las Vegas Highway that killed four teenagers. Griego says he no longer drinks.
SFR: Since the June 28 crash, we’ve heard proposals to ban alcohol sales and imprison first-time drunk drivers. Are either of those realistic?
PG: No. No. You’re not going to turn Santa Fe County into a dry county. You’re just not going to do that. No. 2, you can pass all the laws you want, but…as long as people can drink liquor and drive, there are going to be idiots that drink and drive. I was one of them. I got caught twice. I spent three days in jail and learned my lesson. You’ve got to start educating our kids.
How many times did you drive drunk before you got caught?
A thousand. Because I never thought it would happen to me. It became a habit. You’d get off work, you’d go to a bar, you’d have a couple beers—before you know it, you’d had nine. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Everybody does it.
Considering how common drunk driving is, aren’t the hard-line proposals a bit disingenuous?
Sure! You talk to people who want to pass all this legislation and put people in jail for years and years and years—how many times do they go to dinner and have a couple glasses of wine and drive? They’re not going to admit that. But I will. What happened that week on Old Las Vegas Highway, it could’ve been me. So every time I pass that area and see that marker, it just gives me chills. I don’t know how many times I drove that way on the way back to the ranch, intoxicated.
After all that, your life amounted to something.
Everybody has a second chance. The thing is, are you going to take advantage of it?
Do we have the right kind of education? By the time kids are experimenting with alcohol, they’re laughing at their DARE classes.
When people who have actually experienced this, other than an arresting officer, talk about it, the conversation between that person and the class sticks.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano wants more inpatient addiction-treatment programs.
The thing is, if you don’t want the help, you’re not going to get it.
But there aren’t enough beds; we’re not even giving people the chance to flunk out of rehab.
That’s true. And there are people waiting. How many are waiting because they want the help, and how many are waiting because they were sentenced to inpatient treatment? We have to think, ‘How can we afford to create more treatment centers?” It’s always about money.
So, as a lawmaker, what will you cut to fund more treatment?
That is a very difficult question. Because are you going to cut education, health care, social services? We, as legislators, always get a cut of the pie to take home for capital outlay. Mine has primarily been for acequias and so forth. Am I willing to forego the money for acequias in my district to fund a treatment center in Santa Fe that my constituents may not use? Every legislator faces that question.
Are we making any progress whatsoever?
I think we’re taking baby steps. The outcry of the people after the fact is making some headway. Aside from the poor families that had to suffer this thing, in a couple months, everybody will have forgotten about it.
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