(Derby City Gaming in Louisville / Photo by Gene McLean)
As you know by now, SB 120 — the legislation that addresses the legality of Historical Horse Racing and the devices that have become so popular with both racing fans and the general public — has been passed by both Chambers of the Kentucky legislature.
Time for applause.
More applause, please.
Light up the studio sign requesting “Applause.”
Now, the measure is headed to the desk of Gov. Andy Beshear, who has already pledged and promised to sign into law. Soon, we may have this issue resolved. Once and for all. And, soon, maybe we can go back to what we all want to do in this industry in the first place and that we love so and cherish more. We can go back to loving the horse.
But before we “Exit, Stage Left,” (I love being able to quote “Snagglepuss;” or was it “Quick Draw McGraw?”) there is much thanks to be given.
From the entire horse industry to all those persons that ultimately, eventually, exhaustingly made this happen. From each of us who love this sport and game to all those that worked tirelessly, gave graciously, and endured many threats and accusations with both grace and style to ensure that OUR state’s signature industry not only can survive, but, hopefully thrive. From each of us — every single one of us — to every single one of them.
We need to give thanks. Heart-felt thanks. Genuine thanks.
And, we have to do more than that, too.
We have to give back our support to each of those persons that gave heart and soul to us. Heart-felt support. Genuine support. Meaningful support. A commitment today to remember tomorrow and lend all our efforts in the same way that they lent their’s. Unconditional.
We have to start today and build for tomorrow with a willingness to remember; a promise to help; a commitment to work for them all in the same way that they worked for us.
Are your ready horse industry? Are your prepared? Are you committed? I am. Promise you that.
As we put a ribbon on this package, though, I want to leave you with some of my impressions, thoughts and memories. Some quick hitters:
My “Starting Five:”
While every single vote is important and every commitment is crucial in a fight like this, there are always some that take the lead; that step into either the limelight or the middle of the bullseye. And, there is no question, in this issue, we were blessed to have some of the very best.
- House Speaker David Osborne. Nobody — not a single person other than his lovely bride, Lori — will ever truly know what this man did to get this legislation passed. How much he endured. How much he worked. How much he gave. How much he sacrificed. How much. And, he did it ethically. He did it morally. He did it graciously. He did it without credit. He did it because it was right for our industry and our Commonwealth. He did it because it was the right thing to do. The Speaker is a friend of mine. He may cringe to acknowledge it, or that it becomes known to the general public. And I don’t blame him if he denies it three times. But I told him on Friday that this was our “7th Game of the World Series. And, he pitched a Perfect Game.” Look it up. See how many times that has happened. It happened on Thursday. Thank you, Speaker.
- Senator John Schickel. The Gentleman from Boone County, who serves as the Chairman of the Licensing & Occupations Committee, was the Bill Sponsor. He was the person willing to step up to take on the issue. He was the person willing to step out of the shadows and into the fray and fight. He was the person willing to lead. And, that’s exactly what he did. With professionalism exemplified. If you don’t know Sen. Schickel, then get to know him. He is meticulous and defined. He dots every “i.” He crosses every “t.” And, he is both fair and equitable to all. Even those that oppose him bitterly and angrily. He might leave the emotion at home, by what you may see. But he brings his “A” game to every fight. Armed with facts. Protected by the truth. Emboldened by a sense of right. Thank you, Chairman.
- Senator Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer. If you want to add emotion to the mix? Look no further. Look no farther. This man runs on passion, and he suffers fools very lightly. I know. I have been a fool on some occasions. It didn’t take long to be on the receiving end of a stern lecture that reminded me of my mother’s butter paddle. (That is what she used as a reminder of how to act correctly, back in the day.) But there’s one thing you shall not forget: Sen. Thayer will walk through Dante’s Inferno for the things that he loves and believes in. And, there is one thing that is not debatable. Sen. Damon Thayer loves the horse and the horse industry. For every American Pharoah, who is as calm and gentle a Champion as there every ran, there has to be a Justify, too. One that will take a digit off if you poke your finger too far. Thank you, Mr. Leader.
- House Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles. This “Lady From Owensboro” may have given the best Floor Speech in the history of the Kentucky General Assembly on Thursday. Admittedly, she stood and took to her microphone reluctantly. Her words? They flowed freely, and with deep conviction and emotion. They were delivered convincingly. I worked in Frankfort for over 30 years. I lobbied many issues. I worked many bills and pieces of legislation. I have never heard words better chosen; more delicately framed; more passionately delivered. Ever. She talked of her family and how they knew the previous owners of little Ellis Park, which is housed in Henderson, KY. She recanted many stories of how she — and her family — grew up going to the track. She told how she was introduced to our sport. And, she finished with a fiery commitment to always help those that work and invest in her community and our Commonwealth. She was magnificent. And, I hope someday that I can tell her how much her words mean to all of us. In person. And, give her my thanks. Thank you, Madame Chair.
- Rep. Matt Koch / Rep. Jason Nemes. OK. I cheated here. I know you can only have a “Starting Five” in basketball. But if the Speaker threw a perfect game? That’s baseball. That’s eight others on the field with you. Right? And, after all, if you are going to throw a “Perfect Game,” you have to have a great catcher and a fantastic shortstop. The Speaker had both of those in these two fine gents. To be honest, I have known the Koch family for well over 40 years. I got to know Matt’s grandfather in the Keeneland press box. Charles Koch used to write for the “Keeneland Magazine” and other horse-related publications. He was stately and a true gentleman. He carried himself with dignity. And, he never missed an opportunity to tutor a young, aspiring writer, who had far more questions than Mr. Koch had time to answer. Yet, he took the time. I knew Matt’s father, too. Gus Koch was the Stallion Manager at Claiborne Farm for many years, and he managed the world’s greatest collection of sires and history of sires. Never once did Gus Koch turn me down when I called to ask for a favor or a visit. No matter how busy. He always assisted. Such was and is Claiborne Farm. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall from the cherry blossom trees in Paris, KY. Matt, who now runs his own consignment agency and farm, was masterful in his new role as a legislator. Masterful. Jason, on the other hand, is the first Republican that I ever walked door-to-door for and asked my neighbors and friends to support. The first. Won’t be the last. But the party affiliation means nothing to me now. The person does. And, Jason Nemes is — without question — one of the best young people I have ever met and gotten to know. He is smart, with a legal degree in one pocket and a willingness to help the downtrodden in the other. He is so fair, in fact, that he is willing to convert on an issue if the logic compels. And, he is a firm commitment to do what is right — even in the midst of a verbal ice storm and cold accusations from a longtime friend who just so happens to be the legal counsel for the Family Foundation. Thank you Rep. Koch. Thank you Rep. Nemes.
You will notice that my “Starting Five,” er, “Six,” are all Republicans. I know. Pains me, to be honest. After all, I am a life-long Democrat. Have been proud of my association and affiliation in the past. I wish I could say that I hold the same for the future. It may be time for me to consider a change, though. We shall see.
Yet, with that written…
I acknowledge the support and wish to thank Democrat and Gov. Beshear for his support and commitment to assist. He picked up the baton before the Session ever began. He vowed his support and committed to help. It is meaningful and critical. No doubt.
I acknowledge that Democrat and Minority Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, one of my most favorite people on this earth, and other Democrats in the Senate voted in favor, too. Their support was and is crucial. No doubt.
I acknowledge that Democrat and House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins and others got around to supporting and voting in favor of SB 120, too. The Minority Leader is a dear friend, and has been for longer than either of us wish to admit in public. She is a damn good person, always well intentioned and has the heart of a lion. I will never doubt that. I thank her. No doubt.
(If you add those 3? Then that gives us our starting lineup for the baseball team. Our starting “9.”)
Today is for thankfulness and blessings. I give them their due with a gracious heart. But we will talk more later. We have much to discuss.
Yet, for today?
I hope that the horse industry shall never forget. As my great friend and former Speaker Greg Stumbo used to say:
“I can be called a lot of things, but forgetting my friends ain’t one of them.”
The “Middle” Finally Won:
For way too long, this country and this Commonwealth has been “occupied” and, to a large degree, “controlled” by the crazy antics of the fringe politicians that currently exist in both of our two major political parties.
There is the “Far Left,” who simply does not represent the core values and policy issues of the mainstream Democratic Party. They have made the word “liberal” a four-letter word. And, there is a reason. They do not have sound “reason” on their side, or “compelling reasons” for their social programs that are neither sustainable or feasible.
There is the “Far Right,” who simply does not represent the core values and policy positions of there mainstream Republican Party, either. They have stormed into prominence — in large part — due to the antics of a former President, who wanted to empower chaos and lunacy. If you do believe in the Constitution and our “Founding Fathers,” maybe you can understand why those authors also made it very clear that there should be a separation of church and state. Leave the sermons to the pulpit and your congregation on Sunday when you come to the Capitol on Monday.
On Thursday, both of those groups attempted to kidnap this critical issue and SB 120, in particular, and hold it hostage for either leverage and compensation or for a stage for some clerical speech about how people should live their lives. Neither one of those two groups and the persons that make up each gave a rat’s behind about the issue, and the welfare of an industry that employs thousands and means millions to our Commonwealth.
They were willing to sacrifice all that for a way to advance their extremism. They were willing to cast aside our people; our history; and our families for their own self-absorbed reason or personal definition of morality.
Both of those groups were wrong. Dead wrong. And, both of them should be condemned for their efforts. Both of them should be remembered when they file their papers to run for public office again.
But you want to know what was most rewarding? Most satisfying?
In the end, the fringe did not win this week. The crazies on both sides of the aisle, who took turn after turn to turn this debate into a personal vendetta finally lost. They lost. Big time.
Instead, “the middle” won. If the line of political thinking extends from “Zero to 180,” and the far left is “O”and the far right is “180,” I truly believe that most of us are somewhere between “65 and 85.” We may disagree on some issues. We may feel and express vehemently on some things. But, for the most part, we can get around to compromise. We can find our way to agreement. And, afterwards, we can go enjoy a beer afterwards. Even a Kentucky Craft, if you are so inclined.
On Thursday, “The Middle” won.
On Thursday, “Logic” won.
On Thursday, “Compromise” won.
On Thursday, our signature industry — and all of what it means and does — won.
On Thursday, our “Commonwealth” won.
The first goes to my newfound best friend — Rep. Miles. In her floor speech, she got around to talking about how she and her family were afforded the great opportunity of going to college and gaining a great education and how that experience assisted her and each of her family members in their life’s ambitions and professions. She then said that many, many families today are the beneficiaries of scholarship monies that are available for each Kentucky student. And, she alluded to the fact that these scholarship monies exist because of funds spent and raised through the Kentucky Lottery. To those that had spent hours condemning all forms of gaming, Rep. Miles finished with an exclamation:
“I doubt any one of you, or any of your family members, has ever turned down (scholarship) money.”
Hands down. This belongs to Senator Whitney Westerfield. In a long monologue and Floor Speech that denounced all forms of gaming, the self-proclaimed Christian referred to a constituent that he regularly sees at a store. According to the storyline, this person would sit at a table and scratch off Kentucky Lottery tickets, until the stubble would litter the ground. Then, after finding a winner in the mix, this person would return to the counter to purchase more scratch-off tickets.
In all of his glory, Sen. Westerfield called this person, and I quote:
“…poor white trash guy.”
Are you kidding me? That’s what a “Christian” calls another person?
From where I come from, my God doesn’t make any trash. Zero. None. Nada.
After all, aren’t we all precious in “His or Her” sight?
I think so.