Beshear urges Washington to treat Toyota fairly

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and three other governors say Washington has a conflict of interest in investigating Toyota.

"Toyota must put the safety of drivers first and foremost," Beshear said in a statement. "However, they deserve a level and reasonable response from the federal government — one that is not tainted by the federal government's financial interest in some of Toyota's competitors."

Last year, the federal government bailed out U.S. automakers Chrysler and General Motors, leaving taxpayers with financial stakes in the companies.

Beshear initiated conversations with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. All four states have Toyota plants.

The governors are urging congressional investigators to treat the Japanese automaker fairly.

Several congressional committees are scheduled to conduct hearings into Toyota's response to safety problems with a wide variety of models. The House Oversight Committee hearing, originally slated for Wednesday, was rescheduled for Feb. 24; House Energy and Commerce will take up the matter the next day.

"As you undertake this issue before your committees, we hope you will consider Toyota's long history as a steward of safety and quality, as a valued employer across our nation, and of the need for a responsible and fair response from the federal government," the governors wrote to four top lawmakers heading up committees looking into Toyota's ongoing recall crisis.

Beshear and the others said the federal government "has spoken out against Toyota, including statements U.S. government officials have later been forced to retract."

He said Toyota has "fallen victim to aggressive and questionable news coverage of these issues when the real story is how quickly Toyota identified the problems, found solutions and delivered those solutions to its dealers worldwide; many Toyota dealers are working around the clock to fix the problems."

The congressional committees are looking into reports that State Farm and other insurance companies had told regulators about problems with sudden unintended acceleration as far back as 2007.

A report released Friday by Safety Researcher & Strategies found 2,262 complaints about sudden acceleration dating to 1999, with at least 19 fatalities. SRS researcher Sean Kane is scheduled to testify before the Oversight panel.