Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who pledged in July that state troopers driving him around the state would no longer speed, was stopped for speeding in August.
Just like a well-publicized April 26 incident in Hamilton County, Branstad’s SUV was allowed to go without a ticket.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said after hearing about the latest traffic stop. “It’s the governor’s responsibility to change the culture and it begins with himself and not deferring it to the troopers.”
Branstad’s SUV was pulled over for speeding at 11:34 a.m. on Aug. 27 on Highway 3 in Franklin County, just west of Hampton. Chief Franklin County Deputy Linn Larson gave Trooper Darren Argabright a written warning, but not a citation.
“The vehicle was given a warning because it met the criteria what a warning for anyone else was,” Franklin County Sheriff Larry Richtsmeier said. “If he (Argabright) had been one more mile up, he’d have got the ticket. That’s the way this officer is, he don’t care who you are.”
Larson did not know the SUV was carrying Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who attended events in Webster City, Clarion, Hampton and Lime Springs that day. The stop happened between a 10 a.m. town hall meeting in Clarion and a noon town hall in Hampton.
Larson did not run the silver Chevy Tahoe’s license plate, 343 CFO, to see who owned the vehicle. A search would have showed the vehicle not listed in computerized files, a designation allowed for state cars carrying dignitaries.
Argabright got out of the SUV and met Larson in front of his patrol car, Larson said.
“He told me what he had as passengers in the vehicle,” Larson said. “I didn’t confirm that because it didn’t matter one bit to my vehicle stop. There was speed involved and that was that.”
Larson does not recall how fast Argabright was driving in the 55-mph zone and the speed is not marked on the warning.
The stop was similar to an April 26 incident just 25 miles south, in Hamilton County. In that case, Trooper Steve Lawrence was clocked driving 84 mph on Highway 20, which has a speed limit of 65 mph, with Branstad and Reynolds aboard.
A Division of Criminal Investigation agent spotted the speeding SUV and reported it to dispatch. Trooper Matt Eimers pursued the SUV for several miles, passing numerous vehicles, before determining the SUV was driving Branstad and Reynolds. He stopped the pursuit.
DCI agent Larry Hedlund, who reported the speeding SUV, was put on paid leave within days of complaining the driver wasn’t ticketed. Hedlund, a 25-year veteran, was fired July 17 and has since sued for wrongful termination.
An internal review ended with a $181 speeding ticket for Lawrence. Eimers was not disciplined.
Branstad called a news conference July 18, denouncing Hedlund’s claims that his firing was related to the speeding incident. The governor pledged that troopers not on emergency business would be told not to exceed speed limits.
“We need to obey the speeding laws and traffic laws,” Branstad told reporters. “I don’t want to see another incident like this one.”
The Franklin County stop happened six weeks later.
Argabright told his supervisor about the Aug. 27 traffic stop, Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Scott Bright said. Soon after, Argabright was disciplined, Bright said. He would not describe the discipline.
“It’s all complete and finished,” Bright said.
Branstad Spokesman Tim Albrecht also said the case was closed.
“The governor has made clear that his security detail is to obey all traffic laws, and he does not tolerate any exceptions,” Albrecht wrote in an email. “Upon learning of the incident, the Department of Public Safety launched an immediate investigation and they took disciplinary action against the trooper involved in the incident.”
Bright, who drove previous Iowa governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver from 2001 to 2007, said he never felt pressured to speed in order to get to public events. If they were running late, the trooper or governors’ staff would call ahead to the next event, he said.
He doesn’t think things have changed under Branstad.
“He’s going to be a good soldier,” Danielson, a firefighter with deep connections in the public safety department, said of Bright. “Under every administration, there’s a pressure to keep the schedule and not be late. It might be time to look at a better policy regarding the governor’s security detail and driving.”