Monday, January 24, 2022

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Political Mercury

Was Branstad in the trunk as Car 1 Seattle Slewed the state’s highways?


Historically speaking, politicians use the trunks of their vehicles to stash cash and cold-stow any dead hookers.

They don’t tend to leave the comfortable confines, the wine and WiFi of the back seats of their leathery sport-utility vehicles and finely appointed sedans. John Edwards liked his vino or Diet Cokes just so, ready to go — and in the front seat.

But there’s every reason to believe our governor prefers to stretch out in the trunk of Car 1, his Iowa State Patrol-driven black Chevrolet Tahoe.

Car 1 had its star turn, 15 minutes of KITT, a la “Knight Rider,” if you will, as the subject of a police chase back in late April. Law enforcement officials suspended a pursuit of speeding Car 1 when they realized The Great Mustachioed One and his Girl Wonder were passengers in the vehicle.

No report on where Gov. Terry Branstad was riding in the SUV, though.


Here’s the simple sleuth: Based on Team Branstad’s narrative, the governor had to be in the trunk.

That’s the only logical defense for Branstad’s preposterous argument that he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were just too engaged in state business to notice their Tahoe whiz-banging at what one cop described as a “hard 90” mph past car after car, and even a school bus, on U.S. 20 and I-35 in north-central Iowa. The state patrol laser-clocked Car 1 doing 84 mph, 19 mph over the posted limit.

“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.”

So Gov. Branstad never looks out the window and wonders why his state Tahoe is dusting all other vehicles? Fair enough. Seattle Slew probably didn’t even notice Bob’s Dusty or Sir Sir or Affiliate when he smoked those thoroughbreds in the 1977 Kentucky Derby.

It’s not like the governor’s driver gently slid around slower vehicles at a measured 67 mph. He race-horsed ’em.

A state investigator involved in the incident raised complaints about Branstad directing the speeding — an allegation the governor’s office dismisses.

“To suggest the governor directs the troopers how to drive is absurd,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht told The Des Moines Register.

To which a fair reply is this: Branstad is 66 years old.

Have you ever driven anyone older than age 65 who doesn’t back-seat drive?

This past weekend I visited my 81-year-old father in Overland Park, Kan. We drove eight blocks from his house to Target, a route I have traveled with him, say, 185 times.

Did we talk about the Royals game? Make plans for lunch at Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue joint?

Of course not.

Dad morphed into a human version of the traffic channel on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio. “No, no, don’t take Antioch. Cut through the alley behind the Costco. Come on, speed it up a little. You are getting passed. Yellow doesn’t mean stop.”

The guide for such behavior must come with all that AARP mail he receives. Perhaps he gets motivational tapes at the VA?

Through the years, I’ve also been in a number of vehicles with politicians. If they know their territory well, the pols tend to be quick with commands from the back seat. And they are always on the prowl for extra time. Short cuts and speed make for a happy candidate. A two-week Capitol Hill intern knows that much.

And that’s what’s so troubling about this speeding matter.

Unless the governor is spectacularly sensory deprived, he knows his Tahoe is speeding. Branstad possibly even orders the pushing of the pedal, maybe not with daily barks, but through an unspoken institutional memory.

If the latter is true, he’s saying his time is more valuable than other Iowans, the single mom rushing to a second job, the dad hurrying to make one last sales call before heading home for the night.

In a very real way, that’s true. Branstad is more important. When you elect a politician to five terms, the quaint, fourth-grade social studies notion of him “working for us” flies out the tinted window like a spent cigarette butt.

Branstad is, literally, the boss of us, the CEO of Iowa, King Corn in these here parts.

burns doug 12-10-25

But a “hard 90?” A clocked 84?

That’s reckless.

People routinely driving at those speeds care more about the moments saved for themselves than the years of life they’re jeopardizing for others on Iowa’s highways.

In the end, Branstad has a bullet-proof argument. He’s leading, really leading, by example. Everyone else is in his rearview mirror — or soon will be on a highway near you. CV


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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