CEDAR RAPIDS — Gov. Kim Reynolds defended her use of a private airplane and said the in-kind contribution will have no influence on the donor’s application for a state casino license.
Use of a plane belonging to Gary Kirke, chairman of Wild Rose Entertainment, to meet with Iowans two days after she succeeded Terry Branstad — who resigned as governor to become ambassador to China — was neither inappropriate nor a conflict of interest, Reynolds told reporters Monday.
“The Racing and Gaming Commission is an independent agency with no oversight from the governor’s office,” she said. “I have not and will not weigh in on any of the casino licenses. We have never done that in the past and will not do that going forward.”
The governor does appoint commission members, subject to Senate confirmation, but Reynolds has not appointed anyone. Unless a vacancy occurs, there will be no openings on the five-member panel until April 30, 2018, at which time the terms of Kristine Kramer and Dolores Mertz expire. At that time, Reynolds will make appointments.
Reynolds was quizzed about the May 26 use of Kirke’s plane during her weekly news conference at the Capitol.
She and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg met with Iowans in a handful of cities, including Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Mason City.
Although Wild Rose has submitted one of three applications for a license for a casino in Cedar Rapids, “there’s been no discussion of the casino licenses” with either Kirke or commission members, Reynolds said.
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Wild Rose is proposing a $40 million casino on First Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids. Other proposals include the $165 million Cedar Crossing by the River and the $105 million Cedar Crossing Central, which are both proposed by the Cedar Rapids Development Group to be built in downtown Cedar Rapids. The commission rejected a Cedar Crossing application in 2014.
According to a timeline set by the Racing and Gaming Commission in April, the developers are to make presentations about their projects to the commission on July 13 at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona.
The commission is to visit the three sites and the public will have a chance to weigh in at a public forum on Sept. 26 at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, 350 First Ave. NE.
Market studies being conducted by White Sands Gaming of Atlantic City, N.J., and Marquette Advisors of Minneapolis, are to be presented to the commission on Oct. 12 and the commission is to vote on the casino license applications on Nov. 16 at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque.
Reynolds said “we checked” with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to make sure accepting Kirke’s offer to use his plane did not violate any state law. Later, press secretary Brenna Smith explained that Reynolds has a process in place that was approved by the ethics agency when she became lieutenant governor in 2011.
“That continues to serve us well after 6.5 years,” Smith said. “Out of due diligence and an abundance of caution, we reconfirmed with the board that flying on this plane was still allowed as there were never any previous questions regarding its use.”
Reynolds had planned to drive around Iowa to introduce herself to Iowans, but when the U.S. Senate delayed Branstad’s confirmation hearing it shortened the window between her May 24 swearing in and the Memorial Day weekend.
“So we decided to do a fly-around,” she said.
In the future, decisions about accepting the use of private planes will be made on a case-by-case basis, Reynolds said.
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She also defended a $100-per-person fundraiser Kirke and three others linked to the Wild Rose license application are hosting later this month.
“Just as the Democratic candidates will be laying the groundwork for a 2018 run, I am doing the same thing, Reynolds said. “We will have house parties all over this state of Iowa. I have a lot of support from Iowans all over the state.”
Reynolds noted that last year she reported that more than 76 percent of her contributions came from Iowans. Most were $300 or less.
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