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Originally published Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 9:54 PM

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The state’s unusual crusader for stiffer DUI laws

The face of an effort in the Legislature to stiffen DUI laws spent the first part of his political career seeking to change drug laws, including by the state regulation of legal marijuana.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — State Rep. Roger Goodman admits the two biggest crusades of his political career appear a bit contradictory.

Goodman spent the six years before joining the Legislature as the director of an organization seeking to change drug laws, including by the state regulation of legal marijuana.

He’s spent the six years since as the leader of an informal working group dedicated to stiffening drunken-driving laws.

“Some people have asked me about that,” the Kirkland Democrat said from the wings of the House floor recently. “What I have to explain is that it’s actually about effective regulation of intoxicants, whatever it is.”

DUI laws have been ineffective because they haven’t been tough enough, Goodman explained, while marijuana laws have been ineffective because they’ve been too tough, enabling a black market to take control.

“It’s about bringing both to the center,” he said.

Goodman, a 52-year-old lawyer who acknowledges smoking pot as recently as last fall and who received more than $40,000 in contributions from the marijuana community over the past two years, is a major player in one of the state’s biggest anti-DUI pushes in years.

As the leader of the impaired-driving working group and chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, which oversees DUI policy, Goodman is the public face of a proposed crackdown organized by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Not bad for someone who studied environmental law and says he chose to focus on criminal justice issues only after realizing there were already enough environmentalists in the state House.

Colleagues described Goodman as thoughtful and productive.

His seatmate, state Rep. Larry Springer, called him a “devoted policy wonk” and a “bill machine.”

Goodman sponsored 29 bills this year, about domestic violence, gun control, scrap-metal theft and other issues. Five have made it to the governor’s desk for signature.

Bound for politics

Goodman, who grew up in Rhode Island, said he knew as a teenager he wanted to be a politician.

The ambitious student worked on the unsuccessful re-election campaign of President Carter and the equally unsuccessful presidential campaigns of Democrats Gary Hart and Mike Dukakis.

He earned three degrees, including a law degree from George Washington University. He bounced between several jobs on Capitol Hill and served as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia before moving to Kirkland in 1998 with his wife, a flight attendant he met on an airplane.

He developed his interest in criminal justice after getting a job that year as executive director of the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

“I saw we were locking up crack addicts for 10 years and let child molesters out after a year,” Goodman said. “It was like, we’ve got to reshape our priorities.”

Goodman moved to the King County Bar Association’s Drug Policy Project as director in 2001, working with groups across the state to push what he called “more effective” drug policy.

The group advocated for better drug -abuse prevention and addiction-treatment programs, and a reduction in criminal penalties for drug offenses.

In 2005, it issued a resolution calling for “the establishment of a state-level system of regulatory control” of some drugs.

Goodman credits that with laying the groundwork for Initiative 502, last year’s successful effort to legalize recreational pot.

I-502 sponsor Alison Holcomb, who met Goodman through the Drug Policy Project, said she is impressed by his ability to bring people together and tackle complicated issues.

Goodman said he learned that at the Drug Policy Project and has used it since joining the House in 2007 after winning a race for an open seat.

His first year in office, he formed the impaired driver working group, a collection of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, ignition-interlock companies, civil libertarians and more.

The group has written several bills, including a measure passed last year that doubled the prison sentence for vehicular homicide while intoxicated.

Won close races

Goodman represents the Eastside’s 45th District, which he describes as a swing district that is trending liberal.

A progressive liberal, he has survived three close re-election races, including a 2010 campaign in which he trailed on election night before winning by 1,500 votes.

After that election, he announced a 2012 campaign for Congress in the redrawn 1st District being vacated by then-congressman Inslee.

Goodman raised more than $200,000, including tens of thousands from medical-marijuana dispensary owners and national drug-policy groups.

But he dropped out of the race in April 2012, saying he could not raise the cash to compete in the crowded primary.

Democrat Suzan DelBene eventually won the seat, while Goodman won re-election to the state House.

Political opponents have often sought to use Goodman’s drug-policy views against him, but he said “it always backfires” because “people have seen the injustice and waste of the ‘War on Drugs.’ ”

His standing in some parts of the marijuana community did take a hit, however, when he endorsed Initiative 502.

While many supported that initiative, some activists thought it was poorly thought out and harmful to medical-marijuana patients because of strict provisions related to driving while high.

Doug Hiatt, an attorney who represents medical-marijuana patients, accused Goodman of selling out and pandering to the public.

More recently, Republicans have been trying to discredit Goodman with allegations, made by his estranged wife as part of a still-pending divorce, that Goodman himself repeatedly drove while high on marijuana with their children in the car.

Goodman, while acknowledging that he smoked pot in the past, vehemently denied he has ever driven while stoned, saying it would be against everything he has worked for in the Legislature.

Timely work on DUIs

Fellow lawmakers noted Goodman has worked on the DUI issue for several years — longer than some who are now engaging amid public pressure.

Earlier this year, a bill he sponsored to expand DUI courts and restrict deferred sentencing cleared his committee, but died on the House floor.

Two weeks later, a repeat drunken driver slammed into a family crossing a street in Seattle, killing two and injuring two others. In the wake of that and another fatal crash involving an accused drunken driver, Inslee and other lawmakers started a major push for action.

The template? Goodman’s original bill, with additional provisions to stiffen penalties and expand the use of ignition-interlock devices, which prevent a car from starting if the driver is drunk.

The proposal’s fate remains uncertain as the Sunday adjournment date for the regular legislative session nears. But Goodman said he’s happy the issue is getting attention.

“This is about life and death,” he said. “This is the most important thing we can do.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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