Gov. says state can’t release license plate data

DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday defended a decision by his administration to withhold information about how many times law enforcement has checked the license plate of the governor’s official vehicle, which has been accused more than once of speeding.

Citing Branstad’s former public safety commissioner, the Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids reported Saturday that the governor’s vehicle plates had been run through police databases more than 20 times since 2011.

The Associated Press in July requested information showing when the plate was run. That could show whether the vehicle had been pursued or gotten out of photo-enforced speeding or red light tickets. But after agreeing to the request, the administration later said the data must be kept confidential.

Branstad confirmed Monday that the information has been gathered by the state, but claimed he cannot release it under federal law. His administration said in August that the information must be kept confidential and could end Iowa’s access to national law enforcement databases if released, which would threaten public safety.

“You know me, I want everything to be open. We can’t because it’s a federal law and I’m not above the law. I’m going to abide by the law and do what we’re supposed to do. The department should have never have gotten this information,” Branstad said during a news conference.

Former Commissioner Brian London, who resigned Sept. 3 at Branstad’s request, told the Gazette that Branstad’s chief of staff, Jeff Boeyink, directed the Department of Public Safety to search Branstad’s plates and those used by former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. London said a search over the past five years revealed that Branstad’s plates were run more than 20 times, compared to 13 or 14 for Culver. It was not known if any of those checks resulted in any citations.

Branstad at first wanted to get a waiver from the FBI so the information from the National Crime Information Center database could be released, but ultimately opted against it, London claimed.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the state was not currently pursuing a waiver and declined to respond to London’s claims that Branstad had looked into it.

Branstad would not confirm Monday if the number of checks reported by the newspaper was accurate. He also said that he has set new standards for the troopers that transport him in his official vehicle.

“If they value their jobs they’re going to abide by the law. If they value their jobs, they have the same responsibility as any other citizen to abide by the speeding laws of this state,” Branstad said.

Two troopers have been disciplined this year for speeding while transporting Branstad. The latest incident was first reported last week. According to safety officials, trooper Darren Argabright was pulled over Aug. 27 while driving Branstad to an event in Hampton. He was given a warning for driving less than 10 miles over the limit and was later disciplined by the department.

Branstad said the incident was appropriately handled, but said he did not have a responsibility to disclose the episode to the public.

“It’s not my responsibility to tell the public every time somebody has a warning,” Branstad said.

The governor already has come under fire for a speeding incident earlier in the year. Branstad in July ordered the troopers driving him not to speed, except in case of emergency, after trooper Steve Lawrence was clocked driving him at 84 mph in a 65-mph zone but was let go.

Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund initiated that pursuit, and later complained to superiors that routine speeding by the governor’s detail to meet his busy schedule was endangering public safety.

Days later, Hedlund was removed from duty and placed on administrative leave.

Hedlund was fired in July, and has filed a lawsuit alleging it was retaliation for his whistleblowing.

Lawrence was later issued a ticket after a public safety investigation.