By James Barragán and Sneha Dey
The Texas Tribune
AUSTIN — State Sen. Charles Schwertner was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, according to Travis County sheriff’s office records.
Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican, was booked into the Travis County jail at 2:12 a.m. and charged with driving while intoxicated. Records showed Schwertner was in Travis County sheriff’s custody most of Tuesday morning but had received a personal recognizance bond and was released from jail shortly after noon. He is an orthopedic surgeon by trade.
As he left the Travis County jail after noon, Schwertner told reporters: “I’m deeply sorry, apologetic to my citizens and my family. I made a mistake.”
Schwertner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune. His attorney, Perry Minton, did not respond to a request from the Tribune but told the Austin American-Statesman, which first reported news of Schwertner’s arrest on Twitter: “I met with Senator Schwertner very early this morning directly after his unfortunate arrest. He was certainly humble and embarrassed by his circumstances but he was clear-eyed, sober and making good sense. Because of this, we’ll be interested in the discovery once it becomes available.”
A day after the arrest, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, castigated Schwertner for his actions.
“There is zero excuse for driving under the influence and putting lives in danger, in particular by a member of the legislature whose conduct should be held to a higher standard,” he said in a statement. “I will await the final outcome of this issue in court before making any further statement on the matter.”
Schwertner was arrested around 12:45 a.m., when an Austin police officer saw the black Cadillac that Schwertner was driving “swerving to the right and the left and split the two lanes repeatedly,” according to an affidavit of probable cause. The officer followed the car and saw it continue to swerve between lanes, the affidavit said. The officer stopped the car and the driver identified himself as Schwertner.
The officer said Schwertner had “bloodshot, glassy, watery eyes, was confused, and had slurred speech patterns.” The officer also said Schwertner had “a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath.”
The officer described Schwertner as “polite, sleepy, cooperative” in the report. Schwertner refused a breath test, and he was not given a blood test to measure his blood alcohol concentration. Schwertner has no previous DWI convictions, according to the affidavit.
Schwertner, who leads the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee, was expected at the Capitol at 11 a.m. Feb. 7 when the Senate reconvened for the week. The Business and Commerce Committee also had a scheduled hearing to discuss proposed changes by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to the energy market’s design that stemmed from failures that led to millions of people losing power across the state during the 2021 winter freeze. Schwertner, who has served in the Senate since 2013, has expressed dissatisfaction with those changes.
Schwertner missed the Senate’s scheduled meeting and the Business and Commerce Committee’s meeting. Sen. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who is serving his first term in the Senate, took the helm of the committee as the group’s vice chair.
“The chair, as you know, is not going to be able to be with us today,” said King, who previously served in the House.
Schwertner, 52, has faced other scandals in the past. In 2018, he was accused of sending sexually explicit photos of his genitals to a graduate student at the University of Texas. He denied the allegations, saying that someone else sent the messages using his LinkedIn account and another privacy phone messaging app that belongs to him.
A university investigation, which described the senator as uncooperative, did not clear Schwertner of wrongdoing but said it could not prove Schwertner sent the texts.
After the sexual harassment allegation, Schwertner voluntarily gave up his chairmanship of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee to work on other issues in the Legislature and spend more time with his family. Patrick followed the investigation closely.
In 2016, after Austin voters approved stricter requirements for drivers that prompted Uber and Lyft to leave town, Schwertner spearheaded Senate legislation designed to create statewide regulations that would allow the companies to return to the city. The bill aimed to ensure the companies had the same rules in every city in Texas. When he argued for the bill in the Legislature, he said ride-hailing companies provided transportation to people who otherwise “are getting in vehicles and driving drunk.”
Other state lawmakers have faced drunken driving charges in recent years. Former state Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican, was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated in April 2021. He decided to retire later that year.
In 2017, state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, a Dallas Democrat, was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated. She remains in the Legislature.
Such arrests have also been used as political attacks. In 2013, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, was arrested for and pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Then-Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, demanded her resignation and threatened to use his line-item veto power to cut funding to the office’s Public Accountability Office if she did not resign. When Lehmberg did not resign, Perry defunded the unit. He was later indicted in relation to the move but was cleared of charges.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/02/07/charles-schwertner-arrested-texas-senate/.