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Whoopin' up on the gambling strawman

It was a hard week to be a strawman in Montgomery. At every turn the strawman was thrown under the proverbial bus, held to account, beaten senseless by politicians who needed a way out. A hard week to be a strawman indeed.


Let me suggest that those who don’t say what they mean are some of the first to lose the respect of those they serve. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” is a character issue. If you are an elected official who wants to see the expansion of gambling in Alabama, then just say so. But to pretend that you don’t really want it — and then hide behind a strawman and vote for it anyway — is the height of disingenuousness.

It was indeed a hard week to be a strawman in Montgomery.


But hey, it was not about gambling. It was about “giving the citizens the right to decide what they want.” Sure, that’s all it was. Never mind the people of the various House and Senate districts who voted for elected officials to go to Montgomery and make decisions. This was their job, but they deflected and deferred and demurred. The first strawman argument: “We can’t do our job until after the people do theirs.”


We’ve also heard that the question before the legislature is really one of public safety. This is for our own good, they say! “It’s high time we got in there and regulated illegal gambling!”


Aside from the fallacy that legalizing the illegal makes us safer, you have to wonder why Alabama’s Attorney General would call that a really bad idea. Apparently, the chief law enforcement officer of the state doesn’t agree that legalization is the way forward. In fact, this bill stands to reward those who have been violating our laws for years. The second strawman argument? “It’s too hard to enforce existing laws, so we’re just going to make it all legal and call it done.”


We heard quite clearly that Republican leadership wants this bill, so we need to move it forward. It must be a Republican thing! One team standing with locked arms of conservatism! Never mind that when it came to the floor 43% of Republicans voted against it. The bill only passed when all Democrats joined the other Republicans to get it across the line. Well, when you bury Medicaid expansion into a gambling bill you’re sure to gather up the Democrat votes without much trouble! “We were just supporting our leadership because that’s what good Republicans do!” ran the third strawman argument.

But this is about good government, they said! This is what we were elected by our Republican constituents to do! Never mind that one cursory review of the bill indicates that it conflicts in multiple ways with the platform positions of the Alabama Republican Party. Expansion of government? It’s in there. Increased taxation? That’s in there too. More regulation? Yep. Violation of free market principles? Yes, sir and yes, ma’am. Curtailing constitutional liberties? Absolutely.


Has there ever been a less Republican piece of legislation? If this were a bill about something benign like bookstores or food trucks, it would be laughed out of every GOP caucus meeting as being everything that Republicans say they don’t support. But when you add gambling, suddenly the fourth strawman emerges saying, “This is a very Republican thing to do!”


We were also told that this was the most important thing the Alabama Legislature could do. House Republican leadership claimed it was a “priority for the session.”


Has a controversial bill requiring an amendment to our state constitution ever flown through the legislative process with greater speed and alacrity than this one? What about school choice? “We’ll get to that later.” Tax relief? “Not today, we’re busy.” How about veteran care, mental health, budgeting, election integrity and overcrowded prisons? “Those are being considered … sort of.” Does anybody know anyone who called their legislator saying, “The most important thing you can do for me when you come into session is to pass a major piece of gambling legislation before anything else?” Strawman number five was that the blistering speed with which this bill came out of the House was because it was the most important thing for the people of Alabama.


Well, at least we can rest easy when told that this was an open and transparent process! After all, Gov. Kay Ivey is big on transparency. Never mind the fact that the bill was actually hidden from state legislators until just before introduction. In the final days, legislators were “allowed” to travel to Montgomery to review a copy of the 139-page bill, but no one was allowed to take a copy with them for further review. Never mind the fact that it flew out of the House committee on a voice vote so that there will not be a comprehensive record of the “ayes” and “nays” that got it to the floor. Never mind the fact that it lasted less than two hours in floor debate on one of the first possible days it could come to a vote of the body. No one studied it in advance. No one called for a roll of the “ayes” and “nays” in committee. Strawman number six was “Don’t worry, we’re just doing the people's business out in the open.”


Again, if you’re an advocate for the expansion of gambling in Alabama then just say so. Nothing but respect for those who fight for what they believe in and vote their true consciences. But if you say one thing and vote another, then it taints the process.

Let’s leave the poor strawman alone.


At this pace, there won’t be any strawmen left in Montgomery to pummel.

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