There’s no doubt that momentum for the lottery is building in Alabama. A public opinion poll, paid for by the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, found that 62 percent of likely Republican Primary voters support the lottery, and 59 percent even support expanding gambling in Alabama.
These strong numbers show why two Republican state legislators, Rep. Alan Harper and Sen. Jim McClendon, recently put out their own lottery bill.
At first, this would seem like an encouraging turn of events. Finally, after decades of Republican legislators fighting the lottery, there seems to be enough support from both parties to actually let the people vote.
But what if the real goal isn’t to pass a lottery, but to kill it?
If the lottery fails a statewide vote, we won’t get to vote on it again in our lifetimes. This is a one-shot deal. If the people of Alabama reject the lottery again, Republican legislators will say, “We let the people vote and they voted it down. It’s time to move on.”
That’s why the lottery we put in front of the people this November has to be a proposal the people can actually support. And that’s where the Harper-McClendon bill has a problem.
When the lottery failed in 1999, it was because the bill was complicated and included too much pork spending. The people voted that lottery down even though they elected Don Seigelman governor on a platform of passing a lottery and even though numerous polls showed overwhelming support for a lottery. They voted it down because the bill was wasteful and because they simply didn’t trust the legislature.
Now look at the bill proposed by Rep. Harper and Sen. McClendon. Their bill has no specifics in it. It doesn’t say how the lottery will be run or how the proceeds will be spent.
Will the money be used for education? Will it be used for prisons and Medicaid? We don’t know.
What they have proposed is a “blank check lottery.” They want you to give the government the authority to create the lottery and then trust the government to figure out all the details later on.
And therein lies the problem.
These same legislators who are now asking you to trust the government with the lottery money have spent the last three-and-a-half decades telling us that we can’t trust the government.
Have they flip-flopped on their most basic political beliefs? I don’t think so.
Look at their history on gambling. Not only have they spent the past 25 years fighting the lottery and gambling; they spent $9 million of the taxpayers’ money doing it!
Are these legislators completely reversing themselves on the lottery after that many years and all that money, or is this lottery proposal actually a “poison pill bill?”
When legislators want to kill a piece of legislation, sometimes they will attach what’s called a “poison pill” to the bill. What that means is that they add a provision to the bill that makes it so bad, other legislators can’t vote for it no matter how much they like the rest of the bill.
I can’t help but wonder if that is the real intent of this proposed lottery bill – put a bill out there that is so bad that people can’t vote for it, and the lottery will be dead for a generation.
They know that the people of Alabama aren’t going to trust the government with a blank check. I’ve spoken with voters all over Alabama, and almost every single one of them has told me they will only support a lottery if the money goes to education.
So if you want to kill the lottery once and for all, the Harper-McClendon bill is the way to do it.
The people of Alabama deserve the right to vote on the lottery but should be allowed to vote on something that they can support. That’s why I am proposing two bills – the first would just be a lottery where the money would be used for scholarships to two-year and four-year colleges and universities in Alabama. The second bill would be similar to the comprehensive gambling bill offered last year by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and allow for casinos and the lottery.
I want to put both options out there and let the people decide once and for all – do we want a lottery, do we want a lottery and expanded gaming or do we want neither? Legislators shouldn’t be afraid of democracy. They should let the people vote and let them vote on something they can actually support.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Alabama and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.