Iowa Governor Defends Borrowing Private Plane from Operator With Casino License Pending

Posted on: June 7, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: June 7, 2017, 04:12h.

Iowa’s brand-new Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ use of a private plane owned by a casino operator was not untoward, nor was it in any way connected to the operator’s pending license casino application.

Iowa’s first female governor Kim Reynolds defends use of private jet
Iowa’s first female governor Kim Reynolds says she did not discuss pending casino license applications with Wild Rose Entertainment’s Gary Kirke when she accepted the use of his private plane late last month. (Image: Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

That came straight from the horses mouth, as Governor Reynolds this week defended her decision to commandeer the plane in question, which belonged to chairman of Wild Rose Entertainment Gary Kirke, for a meet and greet session, just two days into the job.  

“This was an in-kind contribution, and it was in accordance to law,” Iowa’s first female governor said at her weekly press conference on Monday. “It will be fully disclosed at the end of the (campaign donation) reporting period.”

Raised Eyebrows

After succeeding former governor Terry Branstad, who becomes US Ambassador to China, Reynolds embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the state with acting Lt Governor Adam Gregg late last month.

This was Reynold’s “Building a Better Iowa” campaign, which took her to Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.

But eyebrows were raised in certain quarters of the press when it emerged she had sought out and accepted the use of Kirke’s plane, despite the fact he is currently lobbying the state for permission to build a $40 million casino in downtown Cedar Rapids, the state’s second largest city. The bid is in direct competition with another operator, the Cedar Rapids Development Group.

Wild Rose is also considering applying for two more licenses in the city of Boone.

“No Conflict of Interest”

Reynolds’ insisted that the license application was “not discussed,” adding that the Racing and Gaming Commission, which oversees gambling in the state, is an independent agency with no oversight from the governor’s office.

It should be noted that while the governor appoints members of the commission, as a newcomer to the job, she has not had the opportunity to do so.

“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,” she said, adding that the use of the plane had been cleared by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Nevertheless, it’s being viewed as a political misstep, at best, and her opponents have turned it into a stick to beat her with.  

“The fact that Governor Reynolds jetted around the state on a big donor’s plane while he has a pending business contract with her administration … shows that she has the wrong priorities for our state,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Derek Eadon concluded.

Both developers are scheduled to make presentations to the Racing and Gaming Commission on July 13.