For months, the Des Moines Register and other media outlets across the state have published countless articles and commentaries about the speeding incident involving Governor Terry Branstad’s vehicle on Highway 20 on April 26, 2013. While it’s easy to understand why a story like this has garnered so much attention, the one-sidedness of the reporting on this matter has been disturbing to say the least.
The news of Branstad’s state issued SUV traveling at a high rate of speed on Highway 20 created statewide headlines in July, but the story exploded when it became known that the person who alerted authorities of the SUV was Larry Hedlund, a supervisor with the Department of Criminal Investigation who had just been fired from his job.
The media immediately put two and two together and insinuated that Hedlund had been fired because he reported that the governor’s vehicle was speeding. Hedund gladly played along with this story line by providing reporters with internal emails and plenty of comment regarding the incident. As reporters and editors drooled over a potential scandal involving Branstad, they never once questioned the motives of Hedlund. Nobody should be surprised that the eruption of the news coverage about this incident coincides perfectly with Hedlund’s firing.
On Wednesday morning, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Louis Lavorato released the results of his independent report on the Hedlund matter. The five-page report clearly states that Hedlund’s termination was justified and had nothing to do with the Governor’s speeding incident.
The key point of Lavorato ’s report comes on page four, where he states that the complaint filed against Hedlund which led to his termination was filed on the same day of the speeding incident, but was actually filed shortly before the speeding incident even occurred. Lavorato writes, “Obviously, the motive for filing this complaint could not have been the result of retaliation relating to the speeding incident.”
Lavorato interviewed everyone employed in the Governor’s office, including Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. “From these interviews and the documentation that I reviewed, I conclude no one in the Governor’s office directed or interfered with the Internal Affairs’ investigation or took part in the decision to terminate Mr. Hedlund’s employment.” Lovorato went on to write, “The Governor’s position, which I determined was painstakingly followed by his staff, was to have a “hands off” approach to the investigation and decision to terminate Mr. Hedlund’s employment.”
Lavorato also interviewed officials with the Department of Public Safety and examined internal documents and emails. He also sought to interview Hedlund though his attorney, but Hedlund declined.
Even though Lavorato’s report clears Branstad of any wrong doing or tampering, it doesn’t stop the wrongful termination lawsuit that Hedlund has filed against the State of Iowa and officials with the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Criminal Investigation.
It’s also a shame the media dragged Branstad’s name through the mud for the last couple of months with no evidence that either he or anyone in his administration did anything wrong. Yes, the Governor was in the backseat of a speeding SUV, but that is peanuts compared to what the media insinuated that he had done.
I can’t wait to read Rekha Basu’s mea culpa in her next column. Her July 19th column indicted Branstad as being some sort of ego driven tyrant, which we now know isn’t even close to being the truth. Yes, Ms. Basu is a columnist and thus is entitled to share her opinions, but her column that day was nothing but trash for which she should apologize. Now that the facts found by Lavorato’s investigation have been made public, there are a number of reporters around the state that look pretty bad for the “reporting” they did on this story, which obviously did not include any investigation at all.
Iowan’s deserve better. It’s also good to put all of this drama behind us.
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