A Polk County insider has earned his rural boots

BURLINGTON — Tears rolled for many reasons as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission approved a gambling license for Greene County in a suspense-filled session at the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington.

It brought culmination to more than a year of advocacy for what regional economic-development leaders believe will be a game-changer for rural life in west-central Iowa.

The vote meant relief or closure with regard to the grueling process for all involved, from the commissioners who are flooded with information and lobbied as if they were each a Senate Appropriations chairman to the community leaders who must be at their Sunday Best on Mondays and Wednesdays, less someone think less of their towns and regions during the evaluation of merit for a 19th state-regulated casino.

But there was more behind the swelled, wet eyes of Greene County supporters in the moments after the final sign-off on the license.

Rural Iowans gathered for the commission meeting heard extraordinary eloquence from a Polk County-rooted attorney, a Des Moines insider, for our part of the state.

“We have lots of advantages in Polk County, and I think we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future,” Jeff Lamberti, the chairman of the commission, said. “We’ve got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs, and we’ve got some good things in the works 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.”

Lamberti added, “Being from Polk County, I do have an interest in making sure that the rural folks get part of this as well. So that does have an impact on my decision.”

Simply put, Lamberti saw rural Iowa not just for what it is, but what it can be. His was the voice of the integrated Iowa, with rural and urban forces in concert.

Lamberti said an expectation for regional development in Greene County and its neighbors weighed heavily in his tie-breaking vote Thursday to approve a gaming license for the Jefferson casino-and-entertainment complex.

With the rest of the commission split 2-2, Lamberti provided a favorable nod to the $40 million complex West Des Moines-based Wild Rose Entertainment expects to open on the north side of Jefferson by August 2015.

Lamberti’s fellow commissioner, the folksy populist former lawmaker Delores Mertz of Algona, seemed to predict — or possibly issue a final challenge to Lamberti — before his defining comments.

“Rural Iowa is so different than urban and sometimes urban people can’t see that,” Mertz said. “But there are some good ones that can see that.”

Yes, Lamberti appears very much a corporate cat, someone who can toss a knowing look at the hanging portraits of executives past in board rooms across downtown Des Moines — and maybe even get a wink back from the sage faces on the canvasses.

But in Greene County, regardless of the cut of Lamberti’s suits, the polished angles of his shoes, he’ll forevermore be embraced as a boots-and-blue jeans kinda guy.

He’s earned his rural boots.


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