State Senator Shea Flinn has proposed a bill that will generate anger and controversy among certain of my brethren in the conservative movement in Tennessee-and it is a State Constitutional Amendment that I fully support. Flinn's bill would amend the Constitution by amending the lottery amendment to allow for casino gaming. There are many who support reforms that would allow for casino gambling in Tennessee so that the Memphis area could have riverboat casinos that dock there. I have to admit that I support the amendment for far more selfish reasons, at least in theory.
Those who have read this weblog for a long time are very aware that I have been extremely critical of the gambling regulations in Tennessee where charity gaming rules are concerned. I have even been critical of Congressman Jimmy Duncan on the issue, and he is someone who I have a great deal of personal admiration for. I have come to see that the State will simply not ease the prohibitive restrictions on charity gaming unless there is a fundamental change in the Constitution itself. Under current Tennessee law, charitable groups may attempt get a one-time permit to operate a bingo game or other charitable gaming operation-but of course there is no guarantee they will get that permit. What's more, the cost of obtaining such a permit makes holding the one-time event cost-prohibitive, as a susbtantial amount of the profits are eaten up by the cost of the permit. Now, if the permit were a blanket year-long permit to allow for bingo or other charitable gaming to take place for a year so long as the organization can prove the money goes to charity, and the permit would need to be renewed yearly, that would be quite different, but the law does not allow for such latitude.
In earlierposts, I explained clearly why I favor the easing of gambling restrictions:
"Some reading may say: “Gosh Dave, Tennessee is a really conservative state and you Catholics are in a minority. A lot of the folks might be uncomfortable with bingo games and Monte Carlo nights going on in fraternal halls and churches all over the state.” That is a truism indeed and the Tennessee Knights respect both the law and the general public sentiment. However, the same laws that prevent profitable bingo also prevent profitable raffles, profitable sweepstakes, and other such cash or high prize drawings. Why do we need the kind of money these kinds of drawings might generate? We need it because the mission of the Knights of Columbus demands big time dollars. Tennessee Right to Life and the Special Olympics, two organizations the Knights traditionally support, do not run on pocket change. Neither do Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services, which we also support. As a result, we cannot run on rummage sale money."
"I realize that many of our evengelical Protestant brethren have a terrible aversion to amending our State's gambling laws. I could see maintaining this position in regards to State law if the lottery had not passed. Now that it has passed and is in effect, our State operates based on a double-standard: It is alright for the State of Tennessee to run a massive and multi-faceted gambling operation in which the money is supposed to go to education, but it is illegal for an organization which devotes the vast majority of its existing income to charity to run a regular raffle or bingo. I daresay that the Knights of Columbus are far better when it comes to charitable distribution than the State of Tennessee-our people are in the community addressing its needs each and every day."
It has occured to me over time that for our charitable gaming laws to be changed, there really is no way to do this without amending the Constitution itself, and there is no practical way to amend the Constitution to allow for one type of casino-style gambling without simply allowing for casino gambling in its own right. It will be practically impossible for the State to keep prohibitive charitable gaming laws on the books while allowing for casinos. Knowing that to be the case, I strongly favor this legislation. I urge the General Assembly to pass it by a large enough majority to place it before the people of the State of Tennessee in a referendum in 2010-and if it should fail before the people, let us keep trying until it passes.
I realize that I am in the minority on this issue and that my admitting that I am in favor of easing gambling restrictions (and that I would therefore vote to do so) may cost me votes in some future campaign. However, I have always operated under the premise that I would not hide the truth from the people that I might one day like to serve, and the truth is that I support easing gambling restrictions in Tennessee and if I have a chance to vote on this amendment, I will vote for it, and I will urge others to join me. It is time to end the lottery hypocrisy in Tennessee: The State should not have a monopoly on charity gaming, but the opportunity to use the bingo card and the raffle and the poker game to benefit some people in our society who can better be helped by charity of the heart than the hand of the State should be in the hands of charities and fraternal organizations all over the Volunteer State. We can do it a whole lot better than the State Lottery can.
Mark this down as historic, it is one of the few times I will agree with a liberal Democrat.
Today's radio show deals with what the Governor will (or will not) do about the spiraling situation in Knox County. I also discuss the increasingly nast blogosphere environment where First District Congressional politics are concerned. Oatney On the Air-February 8, 2007
8-47-101. Officers subject to removal — Grounds. — Every person holding any office of trust or profit, under and by virtue of any of the laws of the state, either state, county, or municipal, except such officers as are by the constitution removable only and exclusively by methods other than those provided in this chapter, who shall knowingly or willfully commit misconduct in office, or who shall knowingly or willfully neglect to perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by any of the laws of the state, or who shall in any public place be in a state of intoxication produced by strong drink voluntarily taken, or who shall engage in any form of illegal gambling, or who shall commit any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude, shall forfeit such office and shall be ousted from such office in the manner hereinafter provided.
8-47-109. Governor's duty to direct prosecution. — The governor shall have power, and it shall be the governor's duty, whenever the governor has knowledge that reasonable grounds exist for the proceedings authorized by this chapter against any state, county, or municipal officer, to direct the attorney general and reporter, or district attorney general, or county attorney, or city attorney, as the case may be, to institute and prosecute the same against the offending officer.
Basically, under this little-known section of Tennessee law, the Governor has the right and (as Faulk points out) the duty to direct the District Attorney to prosecute and remove violators of the law from office, and this would certainly include those Knox County Commissioners and constitutional officers who are suspected of having broken the open meetings law, including Commission Chairman Scott Moore.
There is one monkey wrench in all of this, however: Moore himself accuses Ragsdale and his Ethics Commission of also breaking the open meetings law when they met in Ragsdale's office on Monday. I have no doubt that Moore is correct and that Ragsdale and his "ethics" cabal did break the open meetings law. Hence, if the Governor is going to be fair about things, Ragsdale and everyone on the Ethics Commission (which includes four Knox County Commissioners) should also be prosecuted and removed.
This, however, I do not expect. Mike Ragsdale is an establishment man, and like much of the GOP "moderate" establishment, he is supportive of Democrat Bredesen and much of Bredesen's agenda-a fact which you can bet the ranch that Bredesen is aware of. Bredesen likely sees Ragsdale as an ally and will certainly not do anything that would result in Mike Ragsdale or those who support him being punished. If Bredesen exercises his power under the law, it will be done in a very one-sided way indeed.
However, I suspect the Governor has indeed been advised of his rights and duties under current Tennessee law as it pertains to the Knox County political situation-and he will do absolutely nothing of substance about it.
Today's radio show deals first with the Knoxville fire today, and secondly with the Governor's newfound concern (and Mike Ragsdale's old-time hypocrisy) about the affairs of Knox County. Oatney On the Air-February 7, 2007
Even though I do think that there ought to be some sort of vote, I can understand this apparent stand-offishness. After all, had Mr. Ragsdale done his job to begin with, he would have led the way in urging term-limited Commissioners to step aside. He didn't really become all that gung-ho until the County Charter was initially ruled invalid, then the "Hell No, We Won't Go Five" were compared with the anti-federalists who were opposed to the federal Constitution!
Terry Frank is correct when she points out that Tennessee law is very clear about how replacements are to be named, and that if we want to get technical, that law was followed to the letter by the Knox County Commission. The law says the legislative body of the county (the Commission) has the authority to name replacements-and those replacements were named.
The fact that the law was followed doesn't make the process stink any less, but it does explain why Knox County's legislative delegation isn't biting. There is an underlying problem here, a hypocrisy on Ragsdale's part: If he were really concerned about letting the voice of the people be heard, he would have stood up for those original write-in candidates who worked hard and managed to get their names on the August ballot last year, but had their efforts come crashing down because of the now-overruled Chancery Court decision. I don't hear Ragsdale demanding that those folks, who followed the law to the letter, be allowed the ballot access they have already legally earned. I do not expect such words to spill from his lips, either.
Meanwhile, Commission Chairman Scott Moore is accusing Ragsdale's ethics panel of breaking the open-meetings law. What is this supposed to be, offsetting penalties and a move to Fourth and Long?
By now most folks are aware that the McClung Warehouses on Jackson Avenue in downtown Knoxville caught fire early this morning, igniting fires in neighboring buildings including the Philco Warehouse. Much of the Old City had to be evacuated. Mark Saroff owns the McClung Warehouses and I also seem to remember him once telling me that he lived in the building as well. When WIVK reported that one person who lived in the building got out, I presumed it to be Saroff. I hope that Mark is alright, as the press is reporting. WBIR reports that four firefighters have been seriously injured and are in hospital. Our thoughts, prayers, and heart goes out to these brave firefighters.
Anyone who follows Knoxville and Knox County politics knows that the McClung Buildings have been a subject of controversy for a very long time. The city threatened to use eminent domain to sieze them and/or condemn them, while Mark Saroff, the property owner and developer, has been trying for ages to secure funding to renovate McClung. Mark was a supporter in my suspended campaign for Knox County Commission .
Last night's State of the State Address showed us that either Governor Phil Bredesen is completely divorced from the realities of the world and well-intentioned, or completely divorced from the realities of the world and simply wants to burden Tennesseans with his social experimentation. I agree with the Governor about the importance of education, but I believe his emphasis is wrong. First off, he said:
Were you as taken aback as I was to read that 75 percent of [lottery HOPE] scholarship recipients will lose their scholarships before graduating?
Just what planet did you live on, Governor, that you did not know in advance that such would be the reality? The standard for a HOPE scholarship is a 3.0 cumulative average-I think that is fair and if you are going to get that much of your school paid for, your grades should reflect a high average. Most students, however, balance school, work, (perhaps to much of a) social life, and even church activities. Keeping your GPA at 3.0 is not an easy task, so it should not be surprising that so many kids lose the scholarship.
I'm glad the Governor says he wants to address the important issue of at-risk students, and I am also glad that he wants to use surplus lottery money to fund school construction and other school needs. However, I believe very strongly that he is overemphasizing funding for pre-Kindergarten. I don't argue that pre-K is important for some kids in terms of preparing them to learn, but for many kids and parents it is nothing more than glorified daycare-so let's call this what it is: Governor Bredesen wants a universal daycare program. Many kids can suffer serious drawbacks and even develop learning disabilities from entering anything remotely resembling a classroom environment too early.
Where would I get a nutty idea like that?
Well, my aunt feels very strongly that many children fall behind as a result of entering a school environment, even pre-K, too early, because at too early an age kids begin to develop a sense that Johnny or Susie is smarter or better than they are, and it isn't because teachers are sending that message-some kids really have intellectual abilities that others do not share. It doesn't make the other kids stupid, less worthy to learn, or even less likely to be successful, but it can make a child feel inferior to others and that can have an impact on their ability to learn or be successful. For this reason, my aunt feels that kids need to be at home when they are young for as long as the parents are able to keep them there, in a nurturing environment where their self-worth is reaffirmed, and when the kids are ready to begin school, they are confident and sure of themselves.
My aunt recently retired. What did she do for a living? She was a teacher-and not just any teacher, but one who dealt specifically with kids who had learning disabilities. I daresay that she knows something about kids and their development from years of experience.
Last night, we heard a lot from the Governor about funding for school construction, pre-K, and even revamping the lottery scholarship program. I believe that with the money the Governor wants to spend on a pre-K program that is of questionable need for our State, we could instead use the same money that he wants to spend on that program to increase teacher pay-a topic left untouched by Governor Bredesen. Tennessee ranks among the lowest in the nation in teacher pay, yet the Governor wants to spend tens of millions of dollars on education, some of it on questionable programs (like the lottery scholarship program), and he won't even mention teacher pay.
If the Governor were serious about improving education, perhaps he would listen to the House Republican proposal for a separate education budget that is distinct from the rest of the budget-no mention of that idea.
This was the State of the State Address, yet many issues facing Tennessee were left unmentioned by the Governor.
There was no mention of finding a way to eliminate the grocery tax, a tax that hurts untold millions of working Tennesseans, even though the State has the money to give working Tennesseans that tax relief right now and still fund many of the initiatives the Governor spoke of-especially with his proposed tobacco tax hike which will almost certainly pass. There seemed to be an indication of the opposite-that Bredesen won't consider it.
There was no mention of the State confronting illegal immigration with a reform of the driver's license laws-in fact the only mention of the problem at all was a passing mention by the Governor honoring Tennessee troops who are or have been deployed or are under orders-the Governor rightly honored a soldier deployed to the Mexican border who had served previously in Iraq, among other military honorees.
There was little or no mention of how to control health care costs to the State, including broaching the idea of tort or legal reform.
Indeed, there was little mention of anything of substance outside of education. I am not demeaning education, I even agree with the Governor that it is the most important issue facing Tennesseans today...but it isn't the only issue, and on so many other issues, the Governor left us high and dry.
Sadly, it was a typical Bredesen speech, which leads me to believe that we will see typical Bredesen conduct-a whole lot of talk and a lot less action. It is even more disheatening that Tennesseans as a whole seem to prefer it.
Today's radio podcast is a discussion of the problem that conservatives have (or should have) with the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. I deal straightaway with the issue of why many devout Mormons who ought to have a problem with Romney because of his hypocrisy on social issues ignore that hypocrisy.
I will warn readers and listeners that this may be one of the most controversial programs I have ever done.
First district race for 2008 is hot before it begins
Vance Cheek Jr. has a post up highlighting the near-certainty that Congressman David Davis will face serious and well-funded Primary opposition in 2008. As Cheek points out, Commissioner Phil Roe is running for re-election to the Johnson City Commission using the same domain name as his Congressional website. This is a highly abnormal move if you do not intend to keep that kind of domain name for future use, and if Roe were going to wait until 2010, surely his campaign would have the financial ability to simply purchase a new domain name by that time. Roe still has the domain name because Roe intends to run for Congress in short order.
Here is one area where I think Cheek may be off the mark:
While this happens, Richard Roberts sat in my office about a month ago and spent nearly an hour explaining why he would not be a candidate. That's usually a sure sign than the candidate is planning another run. Again, Richard vehemently denies this. However, if Richard is encouraged to run again, it is my personal belief that his personal financial contribution to the race will dwarf his monster financing of the 2006 campaign.
I think if Roberts spent an hour explaining to Vance Cheek, a 2006 rival and former Mayor of a major city in the First District whose potential support could help him if he ran, he probably isn't going to run. I may be wrong here, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on Roberts running. If you want to unseat David Davis, you might rather Roberts be his singular opponent than Phil Roe. It isn't just the issue of Roberts' money-Roberts comes across as more genuine and believable than Roe. It may not be a true impression, but if I think that, I am not the only Republican voter who does. If Roberts does not run, it may be because he doesn't want a three-way race that would allow Davis to squeak by again and cement Davis' hold on power.
On the flip side, a two-way race between Davis and Roe would be a likely Davis victory, as opposed to merely a possible one (as would be the case against Roberts). It is hard to argue that Phil Roe is as conservative as David Davis. For all of his faults, David Davis did receive Tennessee Right to Life's endorsement in the last election, and has a solidly conservative record in the General Assembly about which he can brag, even as it appears that his Congressional abilities will not equal those he displayed in Nashville. Conservatives in the grassroots would side with Davis over Roe in a two-man Primary, as Davis would be by far the more conservative of the two.
Richard Roberts, on the other hand, is another matter. He has an extremely strong stance on immigration and made it a point to say on several occasions and in no uncertain terms that was opposed to Frist's Senate bill. He also strongly supports traditional marriage and even supports a Constitutional Amendment to protect it (I don't agree with Roberts on this, not because I disagree with the spirit of what he is saying, but because marriage ought to be left in the hands of the States and Tennessee's constitutional amendment should suffice). He was talking about banning earmarks and a line-item veto while other candidates barely broached those questions, and long before the President mentioned earmarks in the State of the Union. Roberts could make the argument that he is as strong or stronger than Davis on these issues, and he has never held elective office, so he could run as the outsider-an enviable political position for a mountain Republican to be in.
Roberts' biggest mistake in his campaign last year was to "run on the war." He is (or at least was) more hawkish on Iraq than the district at-large, and he failed to see otherwise. Running on this war will not get you votes in the First District, it will lose you votes. People support our soldiers, sailors, and Marines here-no question. But kids from the First District are coming home with missing limbs (one right here in White Pine) or in caskets, and people are justifiably questioning our war policy if they are not opposed to continuing the war outright. Had Roberts campaigned more on immigration and less on the war, I believe he would be the Congressman from the First District today. Roberts has no military experience, and whatever his position on the war, he should stay away from campaigning too heavily on something about which he knows very little.
In a three-man race Davis might be able to squeak by since Roberts has enough establishment support to cyphen some establishment votes from Roe. If Roberts really campaigns hard on the issues of immigration and federal spending, he could split Davis' conservative votes and make the race very interesting indeed. Obviously, Roberts would be in a position to win in a two-man contest. In a three-way race, Davis would likely emerge the winner-just barely. Roberts does have the potential to pull off the upset.
Today's radio show will be our weekly Sports Final with a twist-it is in part a Super Bowl preview. Matt Daley is the guest co-host as we break down what we think is likely to happen in Super Bowl XLI in detail.
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