In Kentucky, Major Progress Despite Defeat

“We’re running the continued risk of our relevancy to the citizens of this Commonwealth.”

That comment was made by Democratic Sen. Tim Shaughnessy Feb. 23 during the lead-up to a vote on a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling in Kentucky. The “let the people decide” measure failed on a 21-16 vote with one senator absent.

Though the Kentucky horse industry was dealt another setback—assuming the enabling legislation would have been sufficiently beneficial—there was progress. The Senate has been a lockdown chamber for years, controlled by the Republican majority and perhaps even one man, but five Republicans voted in favor of putting the casino question on the statewide ballot.

This represents a major change, one that bodes well for the future on any number of issues facing Kentucky.

It was interesting to hear Democratic senators commending Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, a known conservative who went up against party leadership to support the proposal by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. Thayer publicly stated he was taking a risk by doing so but felt an obligation to stand up for his belief that the only way to address expanded gambling is through a constitutional amendment. He has never varied on that stance.

Damaging? In the darkness of the state Senate, perhaps. But if anything, Thayer should gain more clout and respect for reaching out across party lines, something Shaughnessy said demonstrated a bipartisan perspective “not only rare in this chamber, but non-existent.” If other legislators don’t believe the public realizes this, they’re out of touch with reality.

Anyone who knows Thayer knows he’s a constitutional animal. He loves the constitution. Yet he sponsored the bill. Opponents, however, used the constitution to muddy the argument with success.

Not surprisingly much of the comments made on the Senate floor and during a Feb. 22 Senate committee meeting centered on morality and protection of the public from insidious gambling forces. Such positions should be respected—when they aren’t colored with hypocrisy.

During the committee hearing Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr mentioned the “Good Lord” in her statement of opposition to expanded gambling. On the Senate floor, she likened herself and other legislators to being the front-line defense for the public.

Excuse me for bringing faith into this commentary, but as a Republican, conservative, and Christian, I believe the Good Lord is the front-line defender, not a politician, and would guess other Christians agree.

The anti-gambling argument is disingenuous for other reasons, such as the fact Kentuckians can purchase lottery tickets at any corner store or gas station. But they would have to make an effort to visit casinos located around the state. What’s more insidious?

And let’s not forget no one drags people into casinos or racetracks. And no one forces them to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, things one could argue are ultimately more damaging to the public than regulated casino gambling.

So why no push to repeal lottery and pari-mutuel wagering laws or ban alcohol and tobacco? Are you anti-gambling and concerned about the public’s welfare, or are there other reasons behind your opposition? Casino companies aren’t the only ones that throw money at legislators.

The Kentucky Equine Education Project noted after the Senate vote that even those who killed the measure acknowledged the need to protect the horse industry and its economic impact. KEEP asked the question of legislators: Now what are you going to do to back up your claim?

This issue is not dead. The horse industry is not dead. And in light of the recent developments in the state Senate, bipartisan cooperation that can move Kentucky forward is not dead.

Hypocrisy isn’t dead, either. But legislators in Kentucky should take note of Shaughnessy’s comment about relevancy. It’s clearly slipping away.

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