By Peter Cameron, THE BADGER PROJECT
On an early Sunday afternoon in January of 2014, police responded to a car crash in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer. Officers arrived to find the vehicle up on a snowbank in the median. The bloodied driver had stumbled from the van and tried to leave the scene, witnesses told police.
That driver was Jason M. Fields, who at the time was in between stints as a Democratic Assemblyman from the 11th district, which covers Milwaukee. It was about 12:30 p.m.
When Brown Deer Police confronted Fields after the crash, the man said he “f***** up” in slurred speech, according to the police report.
Fields told police he had “a lot” to drink, according to the report, and officers found an open bottle of vodka in the van. He was later found to have a blood-alcohol level of .305, well over the legal limit of .08.
Police arrested Fields, and he later pleaded guilty to his second drunk driving conviction. The Badger Report discovered the conviction while sifting through the court records of state legislators.
Fields did not respond to messages seeking comment.
He was again stopped in Madison on March 18, 2015 by Capital Police and cited for driving without a license, which had been revoked. He has still not paid his fine of about $200 for that citation, according to court documents.
The politician’s first drunk driving arrest came in 2008 when he was a sitting state representative. Police arrested Fields in March of that year after seeing him swerving on the highway, according to an article from The Pioneer Press.
He lost his seat in a primary election in 2012 to Mandela Barnes, who is now running for lieutenant governor.
While running to return to office in 2016, Fields seemed to hint at the second drunk driving conviction during an interview with Fox 6 in Milwaukee.
“I have lied, cheated, done some outrageously stupid things and made horrible decisions,” he told the TV station. “But I will always confess to them and do my best to be as transparent as possible.”
He declined to elaborate when asked, according to the Fox 6 piece.
Fields went on to easily defeat Darrol D. Gibson of Milwaukee, earning more than 58 percent of the vote and winning by a vote count of 2,933 to 2,063 in the Democratic Primary election in August 2016. He faced no opposition from the Republican Party in the November 2016 general election.
At the moment, no challengers have announced they are running against Fields.
Joe Heim, a longtime political science professor at UW-La Crosse, said drunk driving convictions are not always fatal to political careers. Particularly in Wisconsin, a view Fields seemed to prove by winning reelection after his first arrest.
“Part of that has to do with the fact that Wisconsin is widely known as a drinking state,” Heim said. “I think most of us that see stuff like that and feel bad for the person. We all kind of remember that maybe there were times in our lives when the same thing could have happened, but for the fate of God, we got lucky. I think a lot of people in this state are fairly sympathetic about it.”
Fields is not the only sitting representative in the Assembly with at least one drunk driving conviction on his record. State Rep. Josh Zepnick, another Milwaukee Democrat, was arrested for the offense in October of 2015 and later convicted.
“But if (a drunk driving conviction) occurs two or three times, that’s another story,” Heim said. ‘In cases like that, I think it can be fatal or very difficult for a politician to win reelection.”
The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.