State Sen. Jim Shockley of Victor, who heads the panel hearing bills to crack down on drunken driving, was cited Friday for an open container after an off-duty sheriff's deputy saw him drinking a beer on Interstate 90, Missoula police said.
"He pulled off on the Orange Street exit and city officers were able to locate the vehicle and pulled him over," Missoula Police Detective Sgt. Bob Bouchee said Wednesday.
Shockley - a 2012 Republican candidate for attorney general, the state's chief law enforcement and legal officer - said he was drinking a beer and tomato juice concoction when he was stopped.
"It's certainly embarrassing," Shockley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview Wednesday. "I'm just sorry it happened. It was exceedingly poor judgment, and it won't happen again."
An investigation performed after Shockley was stopped at 7:42 p.m. at Orange and South Second Street West determined that he was not driving under the influence, Bouchee said. He was released and cited for the open container violation. Shockley paid a $51 surcharge Tuesday in Missoula Municipal Court.
Asked how the citation would affect his 2012 candidacy, Shockley said, "It's certainly not a plus. I certainly don't think anyone expected the candidates for attorney general to be perfect."
When asked whether Shockley would retain his committee chairmanship, Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said in a statement only that "we are obviously very disappointed to hear the report that a member of our body was found to be in possession of an open container while driving last Friday evening."
"We are in full support of strong laws against drinking and driving that apply to every Montanan," Peterson's statement continued. "We are committed to pursuing meaningful DUI reform and working to change the culture of drinking and driving in Montana."
Montana outlawed open containers in vehicles in 2005 in legislation sponsored by Sen. Gary Perry, R-Belgrade. The Senate approved the bill on second reading on Jan. 29, 2005, by a 46-4 vote, and on third reading two days later on a 45-5 vote. In both instances, Shockley voted "no."
"It's just another reason for police to pull you over and check for something illegal in your car," Shockley told the Associated Press at the time. "This is what we consider our freedom and this is our right: If you're not drunk, you shouldn't be pulled over."
On Wednesday, Shockley said he had one beer before leaving Helena on Friday to return to the Bitterroot Valley.
He said he stopped at a gas station in Drummond to wash off the windshields on his vehicle and bought a beer and tomato juice mix.
When Missoula police stopped him, Shockley, who has a bad leg, asked the officer if he could take a blood-alcohol test rather than take the test where someone suspected of driving while impaired is asked to walk in a straight line.
"I wanted to blow because I knew I wasn't drunk," Shockley said. The legislator said he had two beers in three hours.
Shockley said the test by a Missoula police officer found his blood alcohol content in the 0.03 percent range, below the 0.08 percent legal level of intoxication. A later test showed his blood-alcohol content about the same level as the first, he said.
Shockley said he has been stopped by law enforcement officials for speeding and traffic tickets in the past, but never for an alcohol-related offense.
Shockley said he learned his lesson and is glad that the he was stopped by a Missoula police officer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing a package of bills dealing with the issue of impairment.
Shockley is sponsoring bills to authorize warrants to obtain blood or breath tests in DUI cases, and to allow game wardens to issue citations to minors in possession.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison contributed to this story.