Branstad Declines to "Micro Manage" Troopers After Speeding Incident

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Terry Branstad took a hands-off approach Wednesday to a controversy over a situation in April where a vehicle driven by a state trooper in which he was riding was clocked traveling at excessive speeds, saying he has confidence in law officers' ability to protect him and the public.

"I don't second guess and I'm not a back-seat driver," the governor told reporters, saying he has confidence in state troopers' driving skills and their commitment to protect him, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and the motoring public while his office maintains a "demanding" schedule visiting all 99 counties every year.

Branstad rejected assertions that the incident in which the vehicle driver was not ticketed points up a double standard that puts his trooper security detail above the law or that the speeding vehicle put other motorists at risk.

"I believe that everybody ought to be treated equally and fairly under the law," the governor said. "I really have confidence that the Department of Public Safety is doing this in a very professional way and I have confidence that they will do an independent review and determine the appropriate action."

Records made public Tuesday documented a high-speed situation in which a state DCI agent called in patrol troopers to assist in stopping a vehicle driving a "hard 90" but the law officers backed off when it was determined the black Chevrolet Tahoe was being operated by a trooper transporting Branstad and Reynolds along U.S. Highway 20 between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge.

Larry Hedlund, the special agent in charge, was placed on administrative leave five days after the incident. Branstad's office said Hedlund's administrative leave "is not related to his complaint about the speeding incident" but the DCI agent's attorney contends it was retaliation for the April 26 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.

Branstad, in his role of Iowa's commander-in-chief, said he did not plan to make any policy changes in the wake of the incident, leaving it to the Department of Public Safety to review the situation and decide if any changes should be recommended.

"Listen, I've never been one to micro manage. I believe you put competent, quality people in key positions and trust them to make good judgment. When there's a question it should be reviewed to determine for the future what makes the most sense," he said.

Asked if trooper Steve Lawrence should have been ticketed for traveling at 84 mph based upon a laser reading, Branstad said "These are judgment calls that are made by the Public Safety Department. They're in the process of reviewing this situation."

Branstad said he does not consider himself above the law, telling reporters: "No. I have always been one that is a very humble person that believes that we -- in fact I always try to go beyond and above my responsibilities. But I cannot talk about things that are confidential."

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