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Governor, lieutenant governor riding in same car draws controversy

Jul 15, 2013

DES MOINES (AP) — The recent revelation that a state vehicle carrying Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was clocked going 84 mph on a state highway has raised the question: Should Iowa's top two elected officials buckle up next to each other?

There is currently no formal or informal state policy barring the duo from driving together, though they don't ever fly in the same plane, said the governor's spokesman Tim Albrecht. But while Republicans Branstad and Reynolds enjoy a close working relationship, regularly travelling and appearing side by side at events across Iowa, their predecessors were often more cautious about joint travel.

“The advice of counsel and people helping us was that we should not be in the same vehicle traveling together or traveling by air together,” said Patty Judge, who served as lieutenant governor under former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, who was in office from 2007 through 2011. “The real single purpose for the lieutenant governor — although lieutenant governors do find things to do — but the single purpose is to maintain continuity of government. If, God forbid, anything happens to the governor, someone is there to step in at the same moment.”

If both the governor and the lieutenant governor were killed, the state's top job would go to the state Senate president, a position currently held by Democrat Pam Jochum, of Dubuque.

Former Iowa Gov. William S. Beardsley was killed in car crash in 1954 just before the end of his third term. More recently, in 2007, former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was critically injured in a car accident that occurred while a trooper driving him was speeding.

Asked about the risk involved in Branstad and Reynolds driving together, Albrecht said the administration trusts the state troopers who protect and transport the governor and lieutenant governor. Albrecht said the chance of both being unable to serve is “extremely minimal.”

“Iowa's top law enforcement officials will continue to transport the governor and lieutenant governor together, because this is in the best interest of taxpayers and a duplication of vehicles and staff is expensive and unnecessary at this time,” Albrecht said in an email.

This was not Branstad's first road incident. A car carrying Branstad and Reynolds hit a deer in 2012. The animal was killed, but no passengers were hurt.

Rules on executive travel vary in neighboring states. It is the policy of the state of Nebraska that the governor and lieutenant governor do not travel in the same vehicle. But in Minnesota they are permitted to do so.

Judge also said that the Culver administration felt it was better that the two attend different events. Gov. Tom Vilsack's administration made a similar judgment call for the governor and his Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, said longtime aide Matt Paul.

“They both had intense schedules and they both traveled a great deal around the state,” said Paul, who noted it was rare for the two to be in the same car during their eight years in office from 1999 through 2007 largely due to scheduling priorities. “We used Lt. Pederson as a true partner. It allowed us to see more Iowans.”

Albrecht said that Branstad and Reynolds campaigned for office as a team and work as a team.

A firestorm erupted earlier this month when it was reported that a state SUV carrying Branstad and Reynolds on April 26 was traveling at up to 90 mph. A state police investigator reported the speeding incident, but a trooper who caught up to the SUV let it go after realizing it was an officer driving the governor.

Special Agent in Charge Larry Hedlund, who called in the speeding report, later complained to superiors that the governor's vehicle regularly speeds, putting citizens at risk. Hedlund was placed on paid administrative leave May 1 in what his attorney claims was retaliation for filing an internal complaint about the governor's speeding. The administration denies that, and Hedlund is fighting allegations that he was insubordinate and violated work rules.

Both Branstad and Reynolds have said they were working in the back seat and did not notice the speed at which they were traveling. Albrecht said state officials are reviewing scheduling practices to ensure that there is enough time between events so that there is no speeding in the future. He said the troopers that drive the governor are expected to follow state law and abide by speed limits. Lt. Robert Hansen, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the episode remains under investigation.

At a recent news conference, Reynolds said the shared car travel was a good economic choice for taxpayers.

“We do (travel together) a lot. We also travel separately a lot. We're a very frugal administration,” said Reynolds.

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