By Will Weissert
AUSTIN — A Democratic state lawmaker arrested for drunken driving offered an emotional apology on the floor of the Texas House on Monday, drawing a standing ovation and flowers from her colleagues.
Naomi Gonzalez of El Paso crashed her BMW into another car, which then hit a bicyclist around 2 a.m. Thursday. Gonzalez, the other driver and the cyclist all went to the hospital with minor injuries. The 34-year-old was charged with driving while intoxicated.
Gonzalez sought special permission to address her colleagues and said she did so “with a heavy heart.” She explained that the crash occurred as she drove alone to her Austin apartment and, “I want to be clear about this: I made a mistake and I am deeply, deeply sorry for it.”
“I am sorry for the shame I have brought upon this House and my district,” Gonzalez said. She added that ongoing legal issues prevented her from saying much about the incident, but that she was glad no one was seriously injured.
“To them and to you, family, friends, colleagues and constituents, I ask for your understanding and I pledge that nothing like this will happen again,” Gonzalez said, her voice cracking. She also thanked constituents and lawmakers for their support and patience.
Lawmakers applauded loudly, eventually climbing to their feet. Some gave Gonzalez hugs and high-fives. Flowers were left on her desk in the chamber.
Gonzalez is not the first state lawmaker to face criminal charges while in office, though addressing the Legislature to apologize is less common.
Not everyone deemed the gesture appropriate. The Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving lamented the appearance, saying it made someone charged with drunk driving and injuring others into a victim.
Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for Texas MADD, said he understood House members supporting Gonzalez and wouldn’t expect them to sit silent as she apologized.
“But cut out the flowers,” he said. “That’s over the top.”
Gonzalez, an attorney who formerly worked in the domestic violence unit of the El Paso County attorney’s office, was first elected in 2010 and serves on a House Ethics Committee. She had been seen as a rising Democratic star in the Texas House and was named freshman of the year by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus last session.
In a statement Friday night — more than 24 hours after word of Gonzalez’s arrest first broke — the Texas House Democratic Caucus released a statement calling the incident “unfortunate” and asking that Gonzalez’s privacy and that of the other victims be respected.