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Despite countless news stories, profiles and biographies of Bush, word of the incident had apparently sat undisturbed for years in the Cumberland County court records. That changed last Wednesday when reporter Fehlau showed up at the courthouse to cover an arson trial. A policewoman told Fehlau she had heard a lawyer and a judge talking about a Bush D.U.I. conviction in Maine. Fehlau spotted the lawyer, Tom Connolly, walking out of the courthouse. Did he know anything about a Bush D.U.I.? Yes, he said. And he had a copy of the docket in his office.
Connolly--a well-known gadfly who gave interviews last week wearing a fishing cap and seated in front of a human skeleton he keeps in his office--says he learned about Bush's D.U.I. through a round of old-fashioned small-town gossip. According to Connolly, an elderly man seeing his chiropractor had mentioned that he was in a courtroom on a D.U.I. charge 24 years ago and that Bush had been there too. The chiropractor, realizing the significance of that news, called a Democratic public official in Portland. And that official--whom Connolly won't name--told Connolly.
Bush blasted the disclosure as "dirty politics, last-minute politics," and he attributed it to Democratic maneuvering. "I don't know if my opponent's campaign was involved," he told Fox News the day after the story broke. "But I do know that the person who admitted doing it was a Democrat and a partisan." Connolly was a Democratic candidate for Governor two years ago (finishing third in a five-way race) and a delegate to this year's Democratic National Convention. There he handed out anti-Bush buttons proclaiming W IS FOR WIENER, and he has a website bearing the same slogan. Yet he insists he had no contact with the Gore campaign. "It's not a dirty trick to tell the truth," he says.
The incident adds more detail to the picture of Bush's drinking habits in his younger days. Four years before the Maine D.U.I., in an incident reported more than a decade ago, 26-year-old Bush was driving home after a party in the Washington area along with his 15-year-old brother Marvin. Bush had been drinking, and he ran over a neighbor's garbage can and dragged it down the street, which led to an angry confrontation with his father. Officer Bridges has described an encounter with Bush's parents in 1993, while he was working a detail for the former President and First Lady. Bridges told the Boston Globe that Bush's father thanked him, said the arrest was "the best thing that could have happened" to his son--and gave Bridges a tie clip.
The Bush camp portrays the D.U.I. arrest as a piece of ancient history from his "irresponsible youth," according to his frequently used phrase. "I've oftentimes said that years ago I made some mistakes," Bush said after the arrest was revealed. He was 30 at the time of this mistake, but Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes pointed out that it occurred before he was married and had children. The campaign also noted that it came long before he became a born-again Christian and gave up alcohol. While many voters may be forgiving of such an old incident, the offense has acquired more of a stigma lately, as the country has become more sensitive to the perils of drinking and driving.