Special election: results from Linn and Johnson Counties

No surprise here, really: voters in Linn County approved Tuesday’s casino referendum. The margin, 61-39, was eye opening — especially since the very same constituents rejected gambling in 2003 by six percentage points. Oh, how things change over ten years. The potential for 600 new jobs, the supposed draw for new businesses, the windfall for charities, and the increased tax revenue proved more lucrative than Dan Kehl’s last-minute water park proposal.

It is now up to the casino investors to convince the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to grant a gaming license. That seems up in the air right now. I read recently that statewide casino revenues are flat and the IRGC said a few years ago that it does not want to grant any more licenses for the time being. There is no moratorium, but the commission seems leery of over saturating the market with too many casinos. Demand is meeting supply and there does not seem to be much growth potential right now. That does not bode well for a potential Cedar Rapids casino. Kehl is also predicting doom and gloom for his Riverside casino. In today’s CRG, he said a casino in Cedar Rapids would take more than 30 percent of Riverside’s business, forcing him to close the casino’s amenities (the golf course, restaurants, and perhaps concert venue) and turn it into a “grind operation” that focuses on revenue from slot machines. The IRGC will need to conduct its own, independent study to judge whether or not a Cedar Rapids casino would be beneficial for the state and industry.

I think Kehl is doing more harm than good at this point. Though his campaign raised good questions, his claims seemed baseless and desperate. It was mudslinging. His strategy may be alienating at lot of Linn County residents, too. Instead of opposing them, I think he would have been better served by questioning the long-term sustainability of a Cedar Rapids casino given the industry’s current health and outlook. “Having a casino is your choice. But if there are too many, we will all struggle — including you.” What will happen after the initial spike in interest? If it eventually fails, what then? Bail out? Will the city buy back the land? That would have got people thinking. But, no — Kehl decided to play “us versus them” and has become an enemy of the people. He is proving to be a prime example of why business people are ill-suited for politics.

Here in Johnson County, though, there was a big special election surprise. John Etheredge became the first Republican elected to the Board of Supervisors since 1958. While his Democratic opponent carried Iowa City, 54-46, Etheredge won all but four precincts outside the city limits. He destroyed Dahms in North Liberty (71-29), edged him in Coralville (52-47), split even in Solon, and won every other county precinct except University Heights. Bobblehead has thoughts here. (Here is an interesting factoid I just read in the CRG: more people voted in tiny Newport Township, Dahms’ backyard, than in North Liberty despite “having 8,440 fewer registered voters.” Turnout was extremely low, though: 6.67 percent.)

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