Note needs to be taken. On the gaming amendment last week, although Blackjack Williams succeeded on stopping the horse industry’s survival package again, there was a tectonic sea change.
What also is worth noting is that change in party leadership in the Kentucky state senate in the late 1990s, when the Republicans took control, was not accomplished at the ballot box. It was accomplished by peeling off Seum and a few eastern Kentucky Democratic senators. Is it possible that the dynamics here could leave Williams vulnerable to a similar backstage revolt?
Of course, there was Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, who has steadfastly tried to help Kentucky horse and farm owners, leading the effort. But take note that there were many Republicans, including some who have been roundly criticized here in the past, who stood up to the bully and worked for Kentucky’s horsemen. Even though the effort failed, this may have been the beginning of the end for Williams. This was a time when it was not all Republicans opposing the horse industry (and not all Democrats supporting the horse industry, it must also be noted). The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, traditionally one of the Republicans most loyal organizations, became Williams’ opponent. Will they oppose Williams and his camp of candidates in the elections this year and in 2014?
Among those Republicans was State Senator Damon Thayer. It was interesting to see how rapidly Damon Thayer “congratulated” Williams, and expressly gave Williams responsibility for killing the amendment. It was almost as if a bulls-eye was being painted on Williams for it. It was also interesting to see how quickly Williams tried to suggest this was a completely dead issue now. Williams historically has taken great pleasure in any win, no matter how dirty or underhanded his methods for achieving it. For Williams to try to immediately distance himself from a victory is completely out of his character, and suggests an awareness that this win has come with a large and future cost.
First, thank you, Republican Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Comer was already previously impressive in his refusal to allow the corruption from Richie Farmer to stain his administration, and by his request for a state audit of his office for the time Farmer was commissioner. Comer realized the horse industry until 2010 had been the number one farm crop by dollar sales in Kentucky, and testified in the senate:
Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, elected to the post last November, said the equine industry is a major component of agriculture in the state and must be protected. He spoke in favor of the bill.
“The interest we have is the health of the horse industry, and the domino effect on the agriculture community should it fail,” Comer said. “This signature industry deserves an opportunity to make its case to the public.”
Here’s Comer before the vote, explaining why it was needed for Kentucky’s horse industry:
Also, full credit to Republican State Senator Damon Thayer. He finally stood up for the amendment, sponsored it, and pushed it.
Kentucky State Senator Julian Carroll (D-Frankfort), who has a Republican opponent this fall, said that he knew the horse industry was dying, and knew that his constituents wanted the amendment on the ballot, but gave this incomprehensible “rationale” for betraying the horse industry:
“I don’t want to see Kentucky’s bluegrass country converted to neon lights,” he said after the vote. “And if you’ve ever been to Vegas, you’ll understand what I mean.”
While the issue of expanded gambling is more than likely dead this session, Carroll believes the General Assembly hasn’t heard the last of it. With the thoroughbred industry suffering, drawing more people to racetracks with expanded gambling will still be debated as an option, he said.
“We have a serious problem with our thoroughbred industry in Kentucky, and we’ve got to somehow figure out a way to assist our purse structures in Kentucky,” Carroll said. “… I’m not sure that I know the formula for it, but I know we’ve got a serious problem.”
Carroll said he heard from a number of constituents, mostly those who favored the bill.
“From a political standpoint, I could have voted for it, but I voted my conscience,” he said.
How his conscience will fare as he sees more Kentuckians unemployed and moving remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is what position Frank Haynes, his Republican opponent this fall, will take on gaming. If Haynes supports it, Carroll could be in trouble in his re-election campaign.
One person who will be in the fight of their political life this fall is Republican State Senator Robert Stivers of Manchester. He voted against the amendment, and already had a disciplined, hard-working and popular opponent this fall in Democratic candidate Ralph Hoskins, who is also from Manchester. Hoskins has the work ethic and popularity to make Stivers pay for his vote.
Democratic Senator Ray Jones of Pikeville also voted against the amendment. While Lawrence County High School teacher David “Chico” Prince is mounting a primary challenge, at this point that race can’t be identified as competitive.
More to come later on the fallout from last week. There are also Democratic incumbent state senators who will face their constituents in 2014 who voted against the amendment. Just as startling were the votes by Julie Denton and Seum—Republican state senators in Louisville, who voted against their own town’s interests.
Any senator who voted against the amendment is invited to explain their position as best they can. Their explanations will be shared.
And just as importantly, any candidates for state senate in 2012 who would like to express their support for the amendment are similarly invited to let their positions be known.