PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- Arizona Superintendent of Public Education Tom Horne (R) has been ticketed for speeding half a dozen times over the last eighteen months, including one ticket for speeding in a school zone and two tickets in the exact same location two days in a row.
But Horne, who aspires to run in 2010 for Arizona Attorney General (the chief legal/law enforcement officer of the state who happens to have the responsibility for enforcing traffic laws on state roads, including photo-radar enforcement), is not taking responsibility for his lead foot.
On Thursday, Horne told local media a speed trap is to blame for two incidents, his son is to blame for one incident, he is "confounded" by the school-zone incident, and his failure to pay his speeding tickets was just "an oversight." On Friday, in my exclusive interview with Horne, he first said, "The problem is photo radar." Later he laid more blame on his son, saying his son is probably at fault for "more than one" these tickets.
Horne also couldn't remember how many of these tickets were photo radar or how many tickets he had before this spate of speeding tickets. He says he "only has memory of" being pulled over by a police officer once.
Horne also told Arizona Republic that the ticket he received just outside of the Pappas school "was frustrating because there was no school." Indeed, the school was closed down -- but not until three months after Horne was cited for speeding in front of it.
When I asked Horne to clarify his story based on the timing of the school closure, he first stuck to his story, then said the ticket must have occurred after of school hours "because I have no memory of seeing kids or crossing guards." But Horne also could not remember whether he received this ticket by photo radar or by being pulled over by a police officer.
Two of Horne's speeding tickets were incurred on the same stretch of Arizona State Highway 51 on two days in a row. Horne says these tickets are the fault of a speed trap, "It's not like I was driving recklessly on the 51. If you don't pay close attention, it's easy to do."
Horne publicly blamed another incident on his son Thursday. When I asked if he had any qualms about publicly blaming his son (a young man in his twenties who is not a public official) to the largest newspaper in the state, Horne said 'no' and explained that a reporter had questioned him about a ticket incurred at 3:00 AM. Horne said he had no regrets, "I didn't want people to think I was out at 3:00 AM."
Horne says he bought his son's car while his son was attending law school so that his son could obtain insurance, and Horne is still listed as the owner. Horne added that he believes more than one of these tickets was the fault of his son.
For many in the community, the most concerning issue is the failure of a candidate for Attorney General not to respond to court summons -- Attorney General is Arizona's highest legal enforcement office.
In Arizona, when a photo-radar citation is issued, the court first mails a summons, then hires a process server. If the process server is unable to personally serve the summons within so many days, the citation will be dismissed. In fact, two of Horne's photo-radar tickets were never paid and were eventually dismissed after Horne failed to respond to the court summons.
I asked Horne if the summons was actually sent to him by mail and he did not respond, and he said, "yes." After a moment's hesitation, he added that he would normally respond to a summons but that a mailed summons is not enough in Arizona, a summons must be served in person (actually, the law says receiving the summons is enough). Then he reiterated that it was an oversight. Horne also told the Arizona Republic that he gave at least one summons to his son to pay.
When I asked why his wife refused to identify herself to the process server who was able to finally serve a summons, he did not have an answer.
Other high-profile officials have also received unwanted negative attention for speeding, and blamed it on photo radar. In the spring Arizona Republican Party Executive Director was arrested for criminal speeding after being caught driving 109 miles per hour (44 mph above the speed limit) on a local freeway after midnight. Mecum, like Horne, also said he "has no memory" of the incident.
UPDATE: Here's a picture of the speeding ticket.