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OUR VIEW: Politicians' speeding is no longer funny

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opinion Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Oh, those politicians. Scurrying to and fro and always running behind. They're busy people, so they deserve a break when it comes to speed limits, right?

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Wrong.

If anybody should know that, it's South Dakotans, who gave a prolonged and regrettable pass to notorious speeder Bill Janklow. For years, Janklow acknowledged his lead foot, and we chuckled. After all, it was just speeding. It was harmless, right?

Then, in 2003, Janklow blew past a rural stop sign driving at least 70 mph in a 55 mph zone and struck a Minnesota motorcyclist. The motorcyclist, Randy Scott, died in the crash. Janklow, a former governor who was serving in the U.S. House at the time, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and resigned.

That incident should have put South Dakota politicians on notice that habitual speeding is no laughing matter, and the days of joking about it and getting a pass from the public are over.

Apparently, Gov. Dennis Daugaard either didn't get the memo or has already forgotten it.

According to The Associated Press, Daugaard poked fun at Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday, saying he didn't want Branstad to get in trouble for speeding to an event in South Dakota.

Here's what the AP reported:

"Both governors were in Sioux Falls to dedicate South Dakota's newest state park. Daugaard told the audience that as the event's start time neared, he asked a staff member to contact Branstad's staff to inquire about his whereabouts.

"But Daugaard added he told the staff member to say 'don't speed to get here.'

"In April, an Iowa trooper clocked Branstad's SUV going 84 mph, but the car was not stopped after it was determined it was Branstad inside. A trooper who complained about the incident was fired on Thursday. Officials say the firing wasn't related to the speeding."

We think Daugaard is a good governor, but in this case he failed in his responsibility as a tone-setter for the state.

Our political culture has condoned speeding for too long. The culture needs to change, and it has to start at the top.

When you're the governor, there's no such thing as a throwaway line. The position is a veritable loudspeaker through which enormous influence can be wielded. If the words that pass through that loudspeaker are spoken too hastily and without care, unintended consequences can follow.

We do not think the governor means to encourage the violation of speeding laws by politicians or anyone else, but that's the effect of his comments. By using political speeding for comedic effect, he has contributed to widely held attitudes about speeding as a crime that only applies to unimportant and unelected people.

That's wrong, and we hope the governor doesn't make the same mistake again. Speeding -- especially speeding for which the offender is given a repeated pass -- can kill.

Everyone who remembers the Janklow crash should know that, and should know better than to ever make light of a politician's speeding habit.

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