Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Vice Chair Jeff Lamberti was arrested Friday night and found to have a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.
UPDATE: Added Governor Terry Branstad’s comments below.
Lamberti is a former state senator who retired from the legislature in order to run for Congress in 2006. Incumbent Democrat Leonard Boswell defeated Lamberti in a race that both parties targeted.
In 2010, some Republican insiders pushed for Lamberti as a potential lieutenant governor nominee. Branstad was rumored to be very close to selecting Lamberti as his running mate, but selected Kim Reynolds instead.
Friday night’s events may derail Lamberti’s ambitions to head the commission that regulates Iowa casinos, dog racing tracks and horse racing track. Jason Clayworth reported that Des Moines police pulled over Lamberti around 10 pm on May 18 after they saw him driving erratically.
After being stopped, Lamberti initially told officers he was texting while driving and admitted to having two beers at Embassy Suites hotel. He later said he had four beers and then later said he had six, the police report shows. Two tests confirmed his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal driving limit.
“I made a stupid mistake,” Lamberti, president of the Iowa Barnstormers arena football franchise, said Saturday. “I deeply regret I made that mistake and almost find it hard to believe that I did. But it was a mistake, and I’m going to take responsibility for it. It shouldn’t have happened, and it will never happen again.”
Police found a cup and bottle in the car with a brownish-colored liquid that smelled of liquor. An unnamed passenger in Lamberti’s truck told police the containers were his but would not tell police what he had mixed in the drink.
Officers found a large bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey that was nearly empty inside a white cloth bag that also contained a piece of clothing and several condoms, the police report shows.
Lamberti was also ticketed for texting while driving.
It’s not clear whether Lamberti was really texting or whether he gave the police that story in the hope that they wouldn’t realize he’d been drinking. Iowa’s law against texting while driving went into effect in 2010.
I do not understand why so many Iowa politicians have trouble not driving drunk. Is it that difficult to make sure a friend in your group is safe to drive you home, or to get someone sober to come pick you up? Lamberti is a wealthy man. He could have ordered a cab from the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Des Moines.
In the past three years alone, three state legislators have been arrested on similar charges: Democratic State Representative Kerry Burt in 2009, Republican State Representative Erik Helland in 2010, and Republican State Representative Greg Forristall in 2011. Other Iowa politicians with drunk-driving arrests in their past include Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds, who was arrested twice before she quit drinking.
“First and foremost, I think it’s a tragic thing that’s happened. He’s taken full responsibility for it, which I think it an important first step,” Branstad told reporters. “The decision as to who becomes chair of the commission is really up to the commission itself.” Lamberti is a former state legislator who served a Republican leader in the state senate.
He was the GOP’s nominee for congress in 2006 against Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell of Des Moines. “Jeff has had a long and distinguished career in state government,” Branstad said. “I know that he feels very bad about this terrible mistake that he’s made and he knows that there will be consequences for that and he’s taken full responsibility and I think that’s important and then I think it’s up for the commission to decide who should become chair of the commission.”
Branstad has not yet talked with Lamberti, but plans to hold a “personal” conversation. “I think he needs to take responsibility for this and he has,” Branstad said. “And then I do intend to visit with him and find out if he does intend to continue to serve and then it’s up to the commission to determine if he should be the chair.”
LATE UPDATE: On June 28, Lamberti pleaded guilty. He got a year of probation and a suspended sentence of one year in prison. The judge ordered him to pay a $1,250 fine and take some two-day program for drunken drivers. Branstad has full confidence in someone whose criminal behavior endangered others, yet some guy who stole a pop machine as a teenager during the 1980s was unable to get even his voting rights restored under the system Branstad created by executive order in January 2011.