Senator Behn won’t support Jefferson casino
By DOUGLAS BURNS
State Sen. Jerry Behn, a Boone Republican who represents Greene County, said Saturday that casino advocates working toward development of a $40 million, 325-job gaming-and-entertainment complex in Jefferson cannot count on his support.
The Boone-area farmer went so far to say he’d vote against a gambling license for the proposed facility if he had the authority to do so.
“I actually think I got a little arm-twisted to write a letter of support,” Behn said. “With all due respect, I’m not going to write a letter of support. First off, I don’t have a vote and it’s not up to me. I’m not going to tell Greene County what they should or shouldn’t do.”
Behn made the remarks in response to a citizen question at a legislative forum at the Jefferson Pizza Ranch attended by about 20 people.
Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., a nonprofit associated with West Des Moines-based Wild Rose Entertainment, presented the case for a Jefferson casino to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission earlier this month. The five-member commission has the final say on whether a license is issued. That decision is expected June 12.
Meanwhile, Jefferson casino advocates have sought and received letters of support from regional economic development and political leaders. Those letters are being used to encourage commission members to grant the license.
For example, Greene County’s casino application includes letters of endorsement from the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, Boone’s Future, a development group for that county, and the Carroll Area Development Corp.
Greene County’s other state legislator, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, quickly endorsed the Jefferson casino plan when asked about it Saturday.
“Yes,” Baltimore said. “If the people want it here.”
Behn did stress the future of the casino is not in his hands.
“If the people want it here, they can have it,” Behn said. “I personally don’t get to vote on it one way or the other. Conceptually, me personally, I think Iowa has enough gambling. So I’m not lit up about any more casinos anywhere, but if Greene County wants one, and they can get one, more power to them.”
When pressed by an audience member if he would help Greene County land a casino, Behn said he didn’t have a vote on the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission.
But if he did, he’d vote no.
“I’ve never done stuff down at the Senate that would encourage gambling,” Behn said. “I just never have.”
Greene County voters last August approved a gaming referendum with 75 percent support, the highest margin for a vote to introduce gambling into an Iowa county in history.
Moving to other matters, both Behn and Baltimore did offer their support for Gov. Terry Branstad’s Home Base Iowa initiative, a plan aimed to attract military men and women to the state as they complete duty.
Branstad, who designated Greene County the lead local community for Home Base Iowa, has said Iowans have a responsibility to veterans — professionals who also have the training to make enormous contributions in the state.
That considered, Branstad has made a veterans-recruitment package “the centerpiece” of his 2014 legislative agenda. The governor sees bipartisan support for: eliminating taxes on military pensions; allowing private employers to give preferences in hiring to veterans just as the government does; and allowing certain military training to count toward licensing in private-sector ventures.
On other issues:
• Baltimore said he is working aggressively to eliminate human trafficking in Iowa, a state which has what he termed a “shadow situation” where trafficking is concerned.
• Behn said he would like to see anti-bullying measures in Iowa reference “all children,” not create lists of special protected classes of people.
• Behn, a farmer since 1972, said he expects the ag sector to be somewhat down in the next year, a factor legislators need to consider with spending choices.
“We really have to be extremely careful,” Behn said.
• Baltimore said the state needs to combat “elder abuse,” situations where the elderly are taken advantage of financially or otherwise compromised.
“It’s a very important thing as our population ages,” Baltimore said.