DUI arrest details emerge as Stanislaus Supervisor Olsen’s political future weighed

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen pleaded no contest Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, to driving while intoxicated charges.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen pleaded no contest Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, to driving while intoxicated charges. Sacramento County Sheriff's Department

More details emerged Friday about Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen’s DUI arrest, including that she was arrested on two misdemeanors: driving while under the influence of alcohol and having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, according to authorities.

Two political scientists said it’s too early to determine the potential fallout for Olsen, though she faces challenges in dealing with her arrest, and one said voters hold female politicians to a higher standard on character issues than they do male politicians.

The California Highway Patrol arrested Olsen, 44, late Wednesday night in Sacramento County. She was taken into custody and released Thursday. The CHP has said she was stopped because she was driving erratically and without her headlights on. The CHP did not release Olsen’s blood alcohol level, saying it was not a public record.

But her attorney has said Olsen’s car broke down earlier Wednesday and was towed to the dealer, and she was driving a car she was not familiar with. He said she had two glasses of wine at a dinner about a couple of hours before she was stopped.

“We are confident that she will be found innocent,” Modesto attorney Robert Forkner has said.

He did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Olsen declined to comment Friday but provided this statement Thursday:

“I regret having made this inadvertent, careless mistake. As you can imagine, I’m embarrassed and horrified. I apologize to my family and constituents for this incident. It was a hard lesson to learn.”

Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Shelly Orio said her office has received the CHP reports of Olsen’s arrest and they are under review to determine whether to charge her.

Two political scientists spoke about the impact of a DUI arrest on an elected official’s career.

“A DUI is a serious event,” said Larry Giventer, professor emeritus in the department of political science and public administration at California State University, Stanislaus. “Driving under the influence jeopardizes public safety. Not to minimize the seriousness of the event, it does happen. She (Olsen) would not be the first or the last public official caught up in this.”

Giventer said elected officials who have been able to put this behind them have confronted it directly and been open and honest.

Keith Smith, a University of the Pacific associate professor, said: “It’s going to be a hard thing to come back from. A lot of it will depend on her personal brand with her constituents and whether or not they will forgive her and be understanding ... One thing I can say is it will be harder for her because she’s a woman. Voters hold women to a higher standard on character issues.”

Smith said that even if Olsen is not charged or convicted, her political opponents will bring up her DUI arrest in future campaigns. “The fact that she was arrested will be an issue from now on,” he said.

Olsen has faced public controversies before.

The Sacramento Bee reported in July 2017 about allegations raised by Olsen’s then-estranged husband regarding her relationship with then-Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes. The Bee reported that Mayes declined to comment, and Olsen said: “It’s a private matter, and I need to respect my family’s privacy.”

Olsen and her husband, Rod Olsen, were divorced in October 2017, according to Stanislaus County Superior Court records.

Olsen and then-Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien faced criticism and questions in March 2016 about O’Brien waiting until the day before the filing period ended to announce he would not seek re-election. Olsen then announced 25 minutes later that she was running for O’Brien’s seat and with his endorsement.

Critics said the timing discouraged other candidates from entering the race.

Olsen, a former Modesto councilwoman, served in the state Assembly from 2010-16 as a Republican, including two years as minority leader. The Stanislaus County native was elected to the Board of Supervisors in June 2016 and began her term in January 2017.

County Supervisor Vito Chiesa said he’s known Olsen professionally for about 15 years. He declined to speak about her DUI arrest, but said the Olsen he knows is smart, hardworking, humble and a good person.

“On the Board of Supervisors,” he said, “she’s a wonderful board member: extremely prepared all the time, knowledgeable, smart as a whip. It comes easier for her than it does for me. In some ways, I’m jealous. She just catches on. She’s a great spokesperson for the board, and for the region.”