Monday, October 26, 2009

Playing politics is in the eye of the beholder

When Senate President David Williams introduced a constitutional amendment last week to ensure that voters get a chance to ratify any attempt to expand gambling in the state, Gov. Steve Beshear charged him with playing political games with the issue.

Playing politics? In Frankfort? Who ever heard of such a thing?

In fact, those who charged Williams with "playing games" are the same people who used every political trick in the book last summer to pass a bill that would have bypassed voter ratification which is required to change constitutional restrictions on gambling.

The history of pro-casino legislation in Kentucky is replete with political shenanigans--legal and illegal.

Many people have forgotten the first attempt to pass expanded gambling legislation: BOPTROT. In the early 1990's the FBI put several legislators to prison for extortion and racketeering for taking bribes to pass horse racing legislation. One of them was then Speaker of the House Don Blanford; another was State Rep. Jerry Bronger.

Bronger, now out of prison, resurfaced earlier this year at the State Capitol. He was meeting with the current Speaker of the House--lobbying in support of slots at tracks.

In 2008, Rep. Dottie Sims, who at the time was opposed to an expanded gambling bill supported by House leadership, was removed from the House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee right before the vote on the bill and replaced by a pro-slots member.

In the latest attempt to pass slots legislation this summer, pro-slots House leaders, after failing to gain enough member support for their bill, tried to buy member's votes using money for new school buildings. If you supported the bill, your district got the money. If you didn't, well, tough luck.

State Rep. Johnny Bell (D-Glasgow) said that House Democratic leadership had made it plain in a Democratic caucus meeting, said the Glasgow Times, that "members had to vote for slots at the tracks or you get nothing." The bill then was passed by the House Appropriation & Revenue Committee, which refused to hear testimony from opponents.

The bill was eventually voted down in a Senate Committee after testimony was heard from both sides of the issue.

Gov. Beshear, stymied by the democratic process and politically beholden to the gambling interests that helped elect him, then decided that if he couldn't get his bill through the process, he would change the process. He lured the head of the Senate committee that voted his slots bill down with a lucrative appointment to a state commission. He is now poised to distort the process further by appointing another anti-slots senator to a judgeship.

These are the people who are now charging Williams with "playing politics." It's as if the town madam had suddenly decided to take up the cause of chastity.

And then there is the ultimate political ploy: taking the exact opposite political position you took when you were elected just a year before and hoping voters won't notice.

Steve Beshear ran for governor on a platform of "letting the people decide" on expanded gambling. But when it became clear last year that there was not enough support among the people's representatives in the legislature for a constitutional amendment to allow slots at tracks that would have required voter ratification, he changed his position. He then began advocating just passing a law and ignoring the Constitution, a process which effectively bypasses the people.

Now David Williams has offered a bill that would require exactly what Gov. Beshear said he wanted when he ran for governor: to "let the people decide." And what is Beshear's response?

Political amnesia.

When Gov. Beshear promises to "let the people decide" in order to get elected, it isn't playing politics, but when David Williams tries to hold the Governor to his word, it is?

If you’re going to accuse others of playing politics, it’s best not to acquire such a reputation for it yourself.

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