Nov 09

Jon Zimmerman

Election 2010 Recap for Traffic Law Development: Members of Congress Who Speed Are In; Traffic Cameras Out in Mukilteo

by Jon Zimmerman

The 2010 midterm and state elections were significant:  nearly two dozen state legislatures changed control, more than 60 Repubicans were swept into the U.S. House (including at least one member-elect who has earned a lot of speeding tickets), and here in the State of Washington we had several voter initiatives at the state and local levels ranging from privitization of liquor sales, increasing the sales tax, creation of a state income tax, school levies, and--for a first in the State of Washington--a measure to make it much harder for the City of Mukilteo to install and generate income on red-light and speed enforcement traffic cameras.  But before we get to Mukilteo, let's talk about South Dakota. 


Leading the pack (literally!) of members-elect in the 112th Congress will be Kristi Noem, a farmer, rancher, hunting lodge owner, restaurant manager, and now South Dakota's at-large member-elect to the United States House of Representatives.  Congresswoman-elect Noem defeated Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, but Noem didn't win without her driving record making national headlines.  The South Dakota Democratic Party created what has to be one of the most amusing political hit websites of the 2010 cycle, chronicling Kristi Noem's driving, arrest warrant, and ticket history, along with a fantastic YouTube video in which candidate Noem states: "It's always kind of been in my nature to be in a hurry and get things done." 

I can't tell which I like better:  the video, the map (with audio as you scroll over it) of Noem's violations, arrest warrants, and failures to appear, or the fact that South Dakota voters really don't care whether their sole representative to the U.S. House drives a little fast. 

A few observations:  if you speed, South Dakota voters will probably forgive you.  About 30 speeding tickets?  Not a problem if you want to represent South Dakota!   If you are in Congress representing South Dakota and run through a stop sign and kill a motorcyclist, however, a South Dakota jury will likely convict you of manslaughter and you will probably go to jail, as happened to Bill Janklow a few years ago. 

Second, if you're Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, you get defeated repeatedly by those who speed like Janklow and Noem.  Apparently speeding tickets are not disincentives for getting elected to congressional office and candidates might actually do better in their electoral pursuits to rack up a few tickets.  

In the words of Congresswoman-elect Noem, "[B]e in a hurry and gets things done"! 

Third, if you're a family member who lost a loved one to a member of Congress's heavy foot, and the member of Congress kills your loved one while on official business, consider suing the United States Government and not the member of Congress, who will likely be protected from monetary damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act. 

Finally, my advice for Congresswoman-elect Noem - if you get stopped for speeding after you're sworn into office, consider invoking Article I, section 6, clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States:

Senators and Representatives . . . shall in all cases except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same...

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The big news out of Mukilteo on Election Day is that Mukilteo voters are fed up with red-light cameras.  In fact, voters there also don't want speed cameras.  Like other jurisdictions across the United States, Mukilteo believes that traffic enforcement via camera technology is unnecessary.  So voters there decided to limit fines from these cameras to $20 per infraction, while making it much more difficult to install cameras in the future (two-thirds council vote, followed by a public vote to ratify council action).  There is a hope that Mukilteo's action might spur voter initiatives to end traffic "safety" cameras statewide.  Stay tuned.   


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