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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Medicaid abortion funding ban a bridge too far for Branstad administration

Opposing all government funding for abortion is settled dogma among Iowa Republican activists and elected officials. For two years in a row, Senate Democrats have blocked attempts to write new restrictions on Medicaid abortion coverage into the budget for the state Department of Human Services. Now DHS Director Chuck Palmer has signaled that taking control of the upper chamber may not give Republicans the power to restrict the choices of low-income women.

Palmer’s action puts Governor Terry Branstad in an awkward position, and a legislature completely under GOP control could create a political nightmare for Branstad, a proud “pro-lifer” throughout his career.

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Branstad issues executive order in name of legislative authority (updated)

Governor Terry Branstad signed an executive order today to nullify an administrative rule banning the use of lead ammunition for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. He advanced two contradictory positions: that the Iowa legislature (not the state Natural Resources Commission) should decide whether dove hunters must use alternative ammunition, and that he was compelled to act because the Iowa Senate failed to assert its authority on this important issue.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2012

Although the 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the Iowa House haven’t changed since last year, I thought it was worth updating this post, because some committee assignments have changed, and House Democrats reshuffled their ranking members somewhat.

Majority and minority leadership teams are after the jump, along with all members of standing House committees. All 100 House districts are on the ballot every two years, so I’ve noted the new district numbers for state representatives seeking re-election in 2012, as well as which House members have said they will retire after this year’s legislative session.

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McKinley resigning as Iowa Senate Republican leader, won't run in 2012

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in 2012 and will step down as leader of his party’s caucus when Senate Republicans meet in Des Moines on November 10. After the jump I’ve posted background on the drive to oust McKinley and thoughts about which Senate Republican will take his place next week.

McKinley’s retirement leaves Republicans without an obvious candidate in the new Senate district 14, which should be competitive in 2012. A map of this swing district is also below.

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