Weekend open thread: Ross Paustian "Sex After Sixty" edition

What’s on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The most important Iowa political story of the week was state Republican leaders hounding consultant Liz Mair out of a job with Scott Walker’s PAC. Colin Campbell compiled Mair’s tweets about the episode for Business Insider, and they are well worth reading. I’m still annoyed by the collective Republican temper tantrum and the Des Moines Register’s pandering.

A different Iowa political event drew even more attention, though, including a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America show. The fateful photo of Republican State Representative Ross Paustian might have been a footnote to a long Iowa House debate on a collective bargaining bill. But because the lawmaker was apparently reading a book called Sex After Sixty, the photo went viral and could easily become what Paustian is most remembered for when his political career is over. I enclose below background, Paustian’s explanation and a few thoughts on the sometimes cruel nature of politics.

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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don’t bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He’s smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than “we don’t like what the commission did.” So, he’s now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn’t fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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Gaming commission grants casino license to Greene County (updated)

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 3-2 today to grant a casino license for a $40 million project near Jefferson (Greene County) in western Iowa, between Boone and Carroll counties. Residents had overwhelmingly approved a gambling referendum last year, but the outcome was in doubt because the commission recently voted down a casino proposal for Cedar Rapids. According to Dar Danielson’s report for Radio Iowa, the commissioners who opposed the license cited evidence a new casino would largely take business from existing Iowa casinos, and that the Greene County community didn’t need a gambling facility as much as other amenities. The commissioners who favored the license cited the potential economic impact for a rural area.

The Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Polk County had lobbied the commission to reject Greene County’s application, citing potential impact on its business. Jefferson is a little more than an hour’s drive northwest of the Des Moines metro area. But in casting the decisive yes vote, Racing and Gaming Commission Chair Jeff Lamberti noted,

We have lots of advantages in Polk County and I think we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future,” Lamberti explained. “We’ve got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs. We’ve got some good things that are in the work that are pretty historic by Iowa standards. And quite frankly, we have advantages that a lot of other parts of the state don’t have, and quite frankly I think we are going to be just fine.”

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who has vowed to keep working toward a casino for his city, sounds furious about today’s decision. I’ve posted some of his comments below.  

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No casino for Cedar Rapids

The State Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 this morning against allowing a new casino to be built in downtown Cedar Rapids. Last year Linn County voters approved a casino referendum by a 20-point margin. Even some opponents of the project believed its construction was inevitable, given the political connections of the group hoping to build in Cedar Rapids. However, today’s vote is in line with the precedent of approving gambling licenses only where new casinos would not "cannibalize" from existing ones in Iowa. Four years ago, the Racing and Gaming Commission rejected applications for casino projects in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama County, despite public approval of all three plans. Multiple studies indicated that the Cedar Rapids casino would draw much of its business from Iowans who now visit casinos in Riverside or Waterloo.

I will update this post as needed with political reaction to today’s vote. Although many Bleeding Heartland readers will be disappointed, I agree with economists who have argued that the “interior casinos” not near Iowa borders do not promote economic development. Meanwhile, new casinos incur significant social costs.

Already I’ve seen several Cedar Rapids residents asking whether the CEO of the Riverside casino will build the waterpark he promised last year, if Linn County voters rejected the casino project. Don’t hold your breath.

UPDATE: In his report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Rick Smith noted that Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett “served in the legislature with three of the five members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.” Former Iowa House Republican and Iowa Senate Republican Jeff Lamberti both voted no this morning. Dolores Mertz, who used to be the most conservative Iowa House Democrat, was the only commissioner to vote yes.

SECOND UPDATE: Further thoughts and more reaction are after the jump.

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Terry Branstad's philosophy of second chances

Governor Terry Branstad’s office released a long list of nominees to state boards and commissions yesterday. I’ve posted the full list after the jump. As he’s done during the past three years, the governor tapped several former state legislators or onetime Republican candidates for the Iowa House or Senate. The latest batch of appointees includes former GOP State Representative Lance Horbach for the State Judicial Nominating Commission, former GOP State Representative Jamie Van Fossen for the Public Employment Relations Board, and former GOP State Senator John Putney for the State Transportation Commission.

Branstad also re-appointed former GOP State Senator Jeff Lamberti to the Racing and Gaming Commission. I’m not surprised; the governor has expressed his confidence in him many times, even immediately after Lamberti’s drunk driving arrest in May 2012. A few weeks later, Lamberti pled guilty to driving while intoxicated, after which his colleagues elected him chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission.

Several Iowa lawmakers in both parties have been caught driving after drinking too much alcohol. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds was arrested for drunk driving twice while serving as a county treasurer. Arguably, Lamberti’s lapse in judgment is no impediment to leading one of the most powerful state commissions, which will soon make a high-profile decision on granting licenses to two new casino projects.

At the same time, it’s striking that Branstad, so committed to a continuing role in public life for Lamberti, so committed to seeing Reynolds succeed him as governor, is also determined to prevent tens of thousands of Iowans from ever participating in politics at the most basic level for a U.S. citizen. Since he signed an executive order making Iowa one of the most restrictive states for felon voting, only about 40 people have managed to regain their voting rights out of an estimated “25,000 offenders who finished their sentences for felonies or aggravated misdemeanors” since January 2011. Branstad’s policy affects mostly non-violent criminals. Non-white Iowans are more likely to be permanently disenfranchised, since Iowa is the worst state for racial disparities in marijuana arrests.

Branstad recently defended his policy on these terms: “At least somebody that commits an infamous crime such as a felony ought to pay the court costs and the fine associated with that crime before they expect to get their rights restored.” The governor knows perfectly well that most ex-felons are lucky to find a job that covers essentials like food and housing. Repaying thousands of dollars in court costs is not realistic for most of these people. Moreover, “infamous” crimes can include stealing a vending machine as a teenager. Denying thousands of Iowans a real chance to exercise their right to vote is a scandal, especially for a governor so forgiving of serious mistakes made by certain well-connected Republicans.

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Iowa casino news and discussion thread

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted yesterday to commission a new study of Iowa’s gambling market to determine how a new casino would affect the 18 existing casinos with state licenses. In March, Linn Couty voters approved a proposed casino for Cedar Rapids, the largest city in Iowa not currently served by a casino. The study will focus on whether there is market share to support a Cedar Rapids casino, or whether that facility would mostly cannibalize business from existing casinos. Racing and Gaming Commission Chair Jeff Lamberti indicated that the study would also examine the impact of new casinos in Greene County and/or the Des Moines area. For more details, read William Petroski’s report for the Des Moines Register and Rick Smith’s story for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

I have never been convinced that the Racing and Gaming Commission would grant new casino licenses in Iowa. In 2010, commissioners denied licenses for proposed casinos in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, and Tama County, despite strong local support. On the other hand, the backers of the Cedar Rapids casino project have close ties to Governor Terry Branstad.

Any comments related to gambling in Iowa are welcome in this thread. In related news, the casino owner who bankrolled the “No Casino” campaign in Cedar Rapids is proposing a new casino in the Davenport area.

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