Gov. Terry Branstad’s SUV was apparently westbound and down, loaded up and truckin.’
The Gazette’s Rod Boshart provides a recap:
A state vehicle in which Gov. Terry Branstad was riding was clocked traveling at an excessive speed in April, but records released Tuesday indicate the incident ended when pursuing law officers determined it was the governor’s SUV being operated by a state trooper.
The high-speed situation came to light when Larry Hedlund, a special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, contacted a state police dispatcher to report a black Chevrolet Tahoe driving at a high rate of speed on a stretch of U.S. 20 between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge.
Hedlund initially told the dispatcher the vehicle with an Iowa license plate was driving a “hard 90” and later he said “he’s got an open field in front of him, so he’s running pretty hard. I’m doing right at a little over 90 and I’m not catching up on him so he’s right in that ball park somewhere.”
Recordings obtained by The Gazette contained conversations between Hedlund and a state radio dispatcher as Hedlund traveled westbound on U.S. 20 trailing a vehicle which had an Iowa license plate that did not show up in the state Department of Public Safety data bank.
The Des Moines Register, which broke the story, has a video from the dashboard camera of the trooper who pursued the SUV but then broke off after figuring out that it’s the governor’s vehicle.
As both the Register and Gazette note, Hedlund is no longer on the job. From the Gazette:
Hedlund since has been put on administrative leave, but Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said Tuesday that leave “is not related to his complaint about the speeding incident.”
Albrecht confirmed that Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were in the vehicle but were unaware the event had occurred. He said the governor was informed of the incident Tuesday when his office learned DPS officials were releasing recordings and information about the incident.
“We have public safety professionals who drive the governor and lieutenant governor throughout Iowa’s 99 counties,” Albrecht said in a statement. “We have great faith and trust in Iowa’s law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of the governor and all Iowans.”
This is one of those head-scratchers that get quite a bit of attention, for a little while. Sort of like when Gov. Chet Culver’s SUV was involved in that weird chase in Des Moines, or when his wife was fined for smoking in a state SUV.
Then it probably fades out, unless we find out that Hedllund’s leave is somehow related to this incident. That would change things.
Still, great faith or not, the governor’s SUV probably shouldn’t be tooling around the state at 19 mph over the speed limit, unless there’s a good reason. I haven’t heard one in this case. And the excuse that he’s in the back seat and doesn’t know his ride is pushing a “hard 90″ seems kid of lame. I mean, this was the guy who beat the bungling Culver by vowing to be the managing man in charge. “Other governors did it” is also lacking. The dog ate my speedometer?
Folks really dislike those instances when politicians seem to think their lofty position means the rules don’t apply to them. Maybe that’s unfair, since Branstad wasn’t driving, but fairness rarely guides these things.
So it probably won’t be a big deal. But for a Democratic strategist running a challenger’s campaign, surely this tidbit would fit nicely someplace. “Terry Branstad thinks he can speed to to a sixth term. 90 mph. He thinks that no one can stop him. It’s time Iowans put on the brakes.” Throw in some grainy photos of his SUV, flashing lights, and you’ve got yourself an ad.
Or, maybe Branstad runs an ad showing a stock car burning up the Iowa Speedway. It stops, and he gets out. “They’ve been trying to catch me for years. But I’m too fast for ‘em.”
Why, yes, this is why no politician has ever asked my advice.
UPDATE — The governor spoke with reporters today about the incident:
Branstad said he and Reynolds were in the back seat of the vehicle and did not realize it was traveling at high rates of speed due to the distractions of their governmental responsibilities.
“We didn’t even know about this at the time,” Branstad told reporters. “Oftentimes I’m working on signing papers, answering phone calls and doing other things, and I have confidence in the drivers and they’re making the appropriate decisions under the circumstances.”
The governor said he has never told a driver to go faster because he was running late for a meeting.
“They are good drivers. They know what they’re doing. I’m not going to be a back-seat driver,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hedlund has provided the DM Register with a copy of a formal complaint that he filed concerning the incident, pointing to his own failure to have the the SUV stopped. It’s an interesting read, so follow the link.