Carl Rollins is not a horse owner, breeder, trainer, nor jockey. He doesn’t work for a racetrack, sale company, racing organization, or bloodstock agent. He has never mucked a stall, hotwalked a horse, bred a mare, or broken a yearling. But Carl Rollins gets it—he understands the importance of the horse industry to Kentucky.
For nearly 15 years Rollins worked in Lexington as a represent-ative for Ashland Oil, and those he sold fuel and oil to included some of the largest horse farms in Central Kentucky. The drivers, he noted, also delivered petroleum products to small farms, medium-sized farms, cattle farms, and many that grew crops but had no livestock to speak of.
“If you were counting the number of jobs directly impacted by the horse industry, most people would not have counted me back then,” Rollins said. “But I can tell you my job depended on the horse industry.”
Rollins was raised in Lexington and today resides in Midway, Ky., an area surrounded by farmland, much of it home to horses of various breeds. He is the marketing manager for the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, a not-for-profit quasi-governmental corporation that assists college students.
Oh, and Rollins is a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing all of Woodford County (Midway, Versailles), part of Fayette County (Lexington), and a sliver of Franklin County (Frankfort, the state capital). The Democrat is one of 52 House members who June 19 voted in favor of a bill to allow slots at Kentucky racetracks, only to see the legislation die a few days later in a Republican-controlled Senate committee.
At an industry rally at Keeneland June 24, when the Speaker of the House, Greg Stumbo, was unable to attend, it was Rollins who spoke in his place. And, like many others, Rollins placed the blame for the death of the bill squarely at the feet of Senate President David Williams, a Republican from Burkesville in southern Kentucky.
“We had great leadership in the House, but a void of leadership in the Senate,” Rollins said. “It is time we do something about it.”
Gov. Steve Beshear, who spoke last to the more than 1,000 in attendance at Keeneland, was succinct when he said, “You can either change the minds of some of the senators, or you can change some of the senators.”
Many singled out Republican Senator Damon Thayer, who makes his living in the Thoroughbred industry. Though not a member of the committee that quashed the bill, Thayer did not stand up and voice support for the some 100,000 Kentuckians who depend on horses to put food on their tables.
Quite eloquent at the rally, and earlier in the day on the floor of the Senate before the special session adjourned, was Senator Ed Worley, a Democrat from Richmond who is the Senate Minority Floor Leader.
To drive home the point about how many jobs in Kentucky are dependent on the horse industry, Worley told the crowd that, “If you look at the horse industry in Kentucky, and you take Lexmark, Toyota, UPS, Ford, and Delta, and combine the employment of every one of those industries that we jump through our skin for every day to help—and we should—it is half the employment of the horse business of Kentucky.
“What you all deserve is to have your cause be advocated for in Frankfort and in Washington, and what you do not deserve is people who represent districts with horse tracks in them or horse farms in them, whether they be Thoroughbred, Appaloosas, walking horse, Standardbred, or old mules, if they vote against the horse industry. You need to remember them on election day.”
Members of the horse industry do not need to defeat David Williams, but merely enough members to change Ed Worley’s title to Senate President and David Williams’ title to Minority Floor Leader.
Getting the Kentucky Senate back in the hands of Democrats is what it will take to secure slots for the horse capital of the world.