(Fans and ponies love each other / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”
It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?
And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure.
Here is a look at our “19th Edition”:
From the Dept. of “Why on God’s Green Earth:”
I have been watching, listening, reading and thinking a lot about this on-going effort to pass federal legislation that would suddenly switch the powers of governance in the Thoroughbred racing industry.
Reading as much material as I can.
Thinking about the comments, some of which are well-intended and meaningful. Some, on the other hand, over-exaggeratons from a few that are attempting to make themselves relevant — again. (Cough-Chris McCarron-Cough). Others that are simply words that are wrong and led to mislead. Overtly.
And, I have been chatting with people whom I have not seen make a statement on the record. With people that I have not seen in public. With people that have great history and respect. With people that have great reluctance to reveal themselves, for whatever reason. It is in these conversations — held in confidence — that I find the truest convictions, ideas, opinions, and thoughts.
This federal legislation, which has been around some time now and is being pushed by Lexington Congressman Andy Barr, is called in some circles — and I would argue, not a winner’s circle — as the Horseracing Integrity Act.
Nice title. Must have been spun by an advertising agency. Hard to argue with that concept, right?
After all, who isn’t in favor of “Integrity?”
If you aren’t, well, you should be. Right?
If you are opposed to this legislation, you must be against Motherhood, Apple Pie, and the American Eagle. Correct?
If you are against, you must be a Communist; a cheater; a hater of animal rights. Rights?
Well, let’s be honest, that’s the intent of the title. That’s why the authors crafted that moniker. The title is intended to couch the argument before there ever is even a debate. To elevate the arguments of the supporters. To cast doubt on the credibility of the naysayers.
After spending 30 years as a lobbyist (a profession and record that I am proud of, mind you) myself, I think I understand how the game is played. How the words are used. How the arguments are framed. And, in the sense of full disclosure, I have probably used the same tactic in the past; or, at the very least, considered it.
But, let’s be really frank here, this legislation is not about he bill’s title or it’s concept. Really, it is not even about the intent of the Act.
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that will be assume that the concept and the intent of the legislation is admirable and genuine.
Let’s just say that we ALL want a better regulated game; that we all want fair and equitable rules that should govern from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; that we all want our horses to be loved, cherished, groomed and respected to the highest degree possible; that we want illegal drugs and cheaters eliminated; and that we want to eliminate any and all injuries that jeopardize, risk, or ultimately, take the life of either horse or man.
Let’s just say that those are the lofty goals. Goals that we should all embrace.
Yet, the trouble with this legislation — in my view — is not the intent. My problem is not that we shouldn’t seek the road to a better tomorrow. I can go down that road. We can take an interstate. We can take the back roads. I’m game for either one.
The trouble — in my view — is the method. It is how this “plan” purports to get you and me there.
And, once you get to that part of this discussion?
There are serious issues to discuss.
A lot further. A lot farther.
Let’s reveal what this bill truly does:
Gone, to a large extent, would be the authority of each state’s individual and respective Racing Commission.
Gone, for all real purpose and intent, would be the power to administer rules and regulations in any true, meaningful way at the local level.
Gone, like a horse from the starting gate and never to return again, would be our ability to do what we think is right in both creating the “fouls” and punishing the “foulers.”
Gone are state’s rights. And, when was the last time you heard of any person on Capitol Hill (any damn Capitol Hill, for that matter) that are opposed to State’s rights?
Instead, with the vote of a Congressman and the swipe of a pen by the President of the United States, this legislation would hand over all meaningful authority — lock, stock and barrel-racing — to some federally-mandated panel that would suddenly have full-powers over much of the sport and how it is to be regulated forever more.
And, they are off.
Before you are willing to do that — and I would argue that this is such a desperation play that it warrants deep consideration — here are just a few questions to ponder before leaping:
- Despite the arguments of the bill’s sponsor and those that advocate the legislation’s passage that this act will not inflict and limit the industry with bureaucracy, then who selects this “federal oversight committee” and governing body? Congress? The President? A newly created Cabinet?
- Who serves on such a Committee? What credentials does one have to be eligible?
- What guarantees are in place to ensure that all aspects and constituents of the industry are fairly represented on the Committee?
- Is the Committee representative of the Country as a whole? Are there members from each State or “Region?”
- Does the Committee have a Chairman? And, if so, are they designated as the “Commissioner?”
- What authority does the “Commissioner” have?
- What are the respective terms of the Commission members?
- How is this new oversight board funded?
- What happens during the times of a federal government shutdown? Are there emergency plans in place?
- What staff is associated with the new oversight Committee?
- What happens to the existing Racing Commissions at the State level? What authority do they have left?
- Who do the Stewards report to? How is the day-to-day operations of the racetrack handled?
- Who imposes the penalties? What are the due process procedures?
These are serious questions. Not to be dismissed easily. Don’t accept the argument that all of this can be handled by “regulations.” After all, who will be drafting the regulations?
I stopped at #13 above for a reason. It’s unlucky.
And, if you advocate for this federal legislation as it exists today, you are just hoping to get lucky. Like picking a horse to win based on the color of the steed; or the name of the horse; or the design of the silks.
You are just hoping that by doing “something,” or “anything” will have a “lucky” ending.
I don’t bet that way.
Neither should this industry.
Some people that I admire and respect are for this move. Some people that I like and enjoy are supporting the effort. Some people whom I often call for advice, counsel, and we often discuss and debate have ended up in this corner of the ring.
I don’t plan on leaving them off my Christmas Card list simply because we disagree.
And, I truly hope that they don’t plan on hanging up on me when I call — simply because I strongly urge caution as this effort proceeds.
It’s just that I have been in and around legislation for a very long time. I have seen unintended consequences arise out of the most well-intentioned ideas. Some consequences that will never be able to be fixed.
For the sake of argument, let’s consider a couple of other things before we leave the subject:
- How much faith do you have in the federal government to do the right thing in either the short- or long-term? Don’t be misled. Government officials will be involved. And, these peeps can’t even balance a budget. Haven’t in a very long time. No matter whom you support or listen to up there. Want them in charge of your game? Let me write this: I have much more faith and belief in the Kentucky State Legislature and its’ leaders than I do in Congress. I have much more faith and belief in the Kentucky Racing Commission than any governing body that would be devised and comprised by someone in Washington, D.C. Period.
- How many sports and/or industries are running to the federal government for more regulation and intervention? I have some great friends that are Republican by persuasion. Love them. Can’t think they are in favor of more regulations and federal government oversight. Just saying.
- What happens when this fails? What happens when you get disgruntled? What happens when you want to go back to State oversight? Ever tried to change a federal mandate? Good luck.
I concur with the advocates of federal legislation about one thing: We must do something to ensure the credibility of the sport; the care of the horse, first and foremost; and the future of the greatest game.
Yet, in writing that, I would suggest an alternative.
Before you rush, I would suggest that the industry look at other possibilities. Reasonable ones. Like:
- I would advocate and support that a consortium of “Top Tier Racing States” meet and develop a list of consistent regulations and rules that would oversee the racing in each and all of the respective jurisdictions. Despite cries to the contrary, it does not take 38 racing jurisdictions to agree on manifesting meaningful rule changes to this industry. Not at the highest levels. Get the officials from the states of New York, Maryland, Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois and California to meet. That’s smaller than any major sports league in college athletics, after all. Develop a set of common rules. Develop an “Oversight Board” of those existing racing officials and Commissions. Simpler. More efficient. It can be done. It should be done.
- If any other State wishes to join the “consortium” then it must adopt and adapt the same rules and regulations. It must have a stern policy that will ensure compliance. And, the State can be placed on “probation” for the term of one-year to ensure compliance in all regards.
- If you race in a state that is not a member of this consortium, then you must go 30-days in “quarantine” in the major racing and “consortium” jurisdiction. You must undergo rigorous drug testing and inspection. Then, and only then, are you eligible to compete in the new jurisdiction.
- All “Member States” will have the same set of standards for review and judgments on all Steward inquiries and rider objections. All stewards from the “Member States” will go to annual classes/seminars to understand and implement the standards. All stewards will be reviewed for performance accordingly.
- All penalties issued in a “Member State” would be acknowledged all all “Members.” Penalties would be issued, and served within a 30-day calendar. Strict, uniform, consistent penalties would be in place for repeat offenders — whether they be jockeys, trainers, owners, racing officials.
If the intent is to truly create a better mouse trap, then it can be done with modifying the existing one in place, in my opinion, without having to turn the sport and industry over to the federal government. OMG.
At the very least, this model is worth discussion and a try. IMO.
This federal legislation package should be called exactly what it is, and what it was from it’s original nature intended to be.
Simply put, this effort should be entitled the “Jockey Club’s Power Grab Act.”
For years, the Jockey Club has wanted to wrestle complete control over the sport for the rich and powerful minority. It has never liked working with individual State Racing Commissions. It has never liked talking to the rest of us.
We have never been good enough. They have always had the answers. Just ask them, if you ever get the chance. But those questions would have to be submitted in writing and approved in advance.
Now, the Jockey Club sees an opportunity. Now, the Jockey Club plans to seize an opportunity for take over — by and through the federal government.
It thinks — either correctly or otherwise — it has more influence to influence and direct the directors with the Federal Government than with State Governments.
In my view, this approach is a bad idea.
In the rear view, this is gong to be a bad idea.
In any view, there are just better ideas.