Cindy Cashen: Still MADD, but less naive

Citizen lobbyist draws passion from drunken driving tragedy

Posted: Friday, December 07, 2001

To Cindy Cashen, the legislative process is "the dance."

And she admits she might have stepped on a few toes during her first session as a volunteer lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Cashen, 40, a lifelong Juneau resident and mother of three, became one of the most visible people at the Capitol during the 2001 session. Intense and relentless, she helped focus public attention on alcohol issues, including a new drunken driving limit of 0.08 blood-alcohol content and a proposed increase of a "dime a drink" in the alcohol excise tax.

Her passion comes from personal tragedy. Her father, Ladd Macaulay, was killed by a drunken driver last year.

"She can say things nobody else will," said Howard Scaman, executive secretary for the Council on Alcohol Abuse and Public Safety, a group of diverse clergy trying to put the brakes on alcoholism and alcohol-related accidents in Alaska. "All of us think the system sucks, but it's the system we're stuck with. ...

"Cindy's all positive. She just means well. She's incredibly articulate - and she's learning. I believe she'll be more effective now that she understands how the game is played and what the rules are," he said.

Cashen admits she was naive.

"When you step into the arena, you might not realize there's a dance already going on," she said. "I'm still not quite familiar with the dance. ... Sometimes I burn bridges and I don't even know it."

Legislators who appeared to soften or stall alcohol-related legislation could expect to see a scathing Cashen quote or guest editorial in state newspapers. She says she didn't have to work up courage to approach legislators because the issues are "such a no-brainer."

"A lot of legislators don't like her because she speaks from her heart," Scaman said. "Most that she's offended have given her a real wide berth."

But Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican who has taken a shot or two from her, says they've worked out their differences and now have a relationship of mutual respect.

Such a reconciliation is improbable with liquor lobbyists, who she has been known to describe as "slithering" into legislators' offices.

But Cashen also questions herself.

"Every night I ask myself, did I do the best I can today? ... I pray for acceptance, and I pray for God's word to come out of my mouth, not mine."

Cashen makes the case that she's not speaking from self-righteousness.

She drank heavily for nearly two decades. In an incident filled with irony, she was stopped while driving drunk on Egan Drive at age 20. Although she crossed the median twice, the police officer who stopped her cited her for reckless endangerment, not for drunken driving.

"He was trying to be nice," she said. "Back then, it was the norm." Years later, the officer was killed by a drunken driver, she said.

Cashen gave up drinking five and a half years ago, conceding she was an alcoholic after entering a spiritual 12-step recovery program.

"The cloud cleared. ... I did lose my drinking friends. And that hurt," she said. "But I did what I had to do to save myself and my family."

Another pivotal event was the death of her father in a wreck on the Seward Highway. She said she was angry at God for about nine months.

Now, "I accept it," she said. "I still miss him. There are times I feel like it just happened."

Cashen learned that even close friends could be uncomfortable with her grief.

"They actually say, 'It's about time' " to get over it, she said. "I learned not to take it personally. Some want you to be happy. Some fear their own mortality or their loved ones'. ... I think their heart is in the right place, most of them."

Cashen says she has emerged from her trials in large part due to her husband, Dan. "I don't think I ever would have put up with half of what he put up with from me."

She operated a bed-and-breakfast for 10 years but closed it to concentrate on MADD. Meanwhile, her husband put in overtime on his state job to make ends meet, she said.

Cashen now wears three hats in the battle against alcoholism, two of which come with small salaries.

She's the case worker for District Judge Peter Froehlich's "wellness court" program, which offers incarcerated offenders some time off if they get treatment. She's the coordinator for the MADD-sponsored Youth in Action program, which offers "power camps" for young people who want to counsel peers against addiction. And she is continuing her MADD volunteer efforts and could become executive director of the Juneau chapter.

And legislators who fear Cashen's tenacity on alcohol issues will get no reprieve Jan. 14, when the next session convenes.

"We're not going to give up," she promises. "We're not going to go away."

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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