Sonn: License to speed

BY BARRETT SONN | JULY 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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Somebody’s uncle once told me that great power comes with great responsibility. So it makes me flinch when I hear people such as Gov. Terry Branstad are not using their power in a responsible — and more importantly, safe — manner. There are traffic cameras in various Iowa cities and towns, such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Branstad’s SUV is reportedly exempt from some traffic cameras, and while the extent of his exemption isn’t known for sure, the point is that his vehicle is more exempt than the rest of us combined. A government vehicle being unrestrained by traffic cameras and the consequences of violating some traffic laws isn’t super egregious on its own. Like many things in life, there are many degrees of abusing one’s power. This seems like a run-of-the-mill case of executive privilege.

But Branstad’s transcendence of Iowa’s traffic laws has an extra little wrinkle. This whole situation came to light because of a high-speed pursuit back in April. Branstad’s black SUV was traveling at speeds up to 90 mph on westbound Highway 20 when Division of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Larry Hedlund noticed and gave chase. When the governor’s license plate was called in, it was apparently not on file in police databases. Because his license plate isn’t in the system, the governor is more or less above the law on road.

And here lies the heart of a budding controversy. Should government plates be included in police databases (other than literally looking in the car and finding the registration information; it would have to be found through the Department of Transportation)? Perhaps a marathon run through “House of Cards” and a steady feed of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert has made me more than a little cynical, but this situation fills me with many indignant questions. For example: Who do politicians think they are? Why should they get exempt from such things as traffic-camera laws? And no offense to Iowa — a state I dearly love — but is there really enough going on here that the governor should be exempt from traffic laws? What’s the rush, Branstad?

What sort of political crisis requires Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to tear down the highway at breakneck speeds like they’re auditioning to play the Feds in Fast & Furious 7? All questions aside, I feel like there is room for a compromise here. But it will require the governor to humble himself and recognize that not every item on his schedule justifies breaking the law. He’s the governor; he keeps an eye on the state, makes sure everything’s going OK and that no extra Medicaid money is illegally crossing the border into Iowa. That’s all great and certainly very taxing, but not enough to merit a James Bond-esque license to speed.

The governor should only be allowed to pull stuff off like that is in the case of emergencies or some serious business. The governor’s traffic violations should be recorded and then inspected case-by-case. If the governor’s staff can prove that the violation was precipitated by a crisis, then it would be wiped from the system. At this point, we ought to realize that politicians are not angels. They need to be monitored, and while we shouldn’t do anything crazy like spy on them (the NSA just winced), they certainly should not be allowed to constantly do such things as ignoring the rules of the road.

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