(Derby City Gaming / Photos by Gene McLean)
There is an old saying in the crazy and confusing world of politics that goes something like this:
“Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
If you dig up the history of this concept and theory, some will tell you that it goes all the way back to the days of the great poet and wordsmith William Shakespeare. In the play, “The Tempest,” Shakespeare wrote:
“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”
In that setting, those words were spoken by a man who has been shipwrecked and finds himself seeking shelter beside a sleeping monster.”
Have to say, Shakespeare was not only a genius with words and story-telling; he was a genius about deciphering life, dissecting people, pulling truth from politics, and telling the future, too.
The latest example is playing out on the stage known as the Kentucky General Assembly. In this drama, that only Shakespeare could do justice and capture with both word and actors, the 138 individual members of the Kentucky State Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives have suddenly found themselves shipwrecked from a mysterious storm created by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
A real life drama that will play out right in front of all of us. A real life drama that means so much to our Commonwealth and to our critically important horse industry. A real life drama that will pit good vs. evil.
It was just a couple of months ago – on the brink of another session of the Kentucky General Assembly – that the Kentucky Supreme Court and this collection of learned lawyers opined that Historical Horse Racing Machines were suddenly and magically not pari-mutuel in either design or function and thus not allowed under current Kentucky statutes.
It only took the state’s highest court 10 years to render such a devastating blow, and then expected – and demanded — another branch of government to come up with a resolution in about 10 months or less.
Now, we find ourselves in the middle of the stage. The drama ready to play out. And, it appears that some are all now looking to find shelter with sleeping monsters.
On one side, there is the entire Kentucky horse industry, and the many other businesses that depend on this historic economy for their livelihoods and their futures.
Over the past 10 years, the Kentucky horse industry has built entertainment destinations that cost multiple millions to create and maintain.
The revenues have added millions to support all of Kentucky’s licensed racetracks. All of them. Both the old and the new. Both the Thoroughbred and the Standardbred. Simply put, without HHR venues, there probably would not be racing at little Ellis Park in Henderson, KY.; or at Kentucky Downs in tiny Franklin, KY.; or, for that matter, at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky. Certainly, there would be no new track at Oak Grove, KY.; and the Red Mile would probably be bleeding red.
In addition, the revenues have created millions to support Kentucky’s purses, and ultimately, horse owners and all the folks that come with them.
And, finally, the revenues have added millions to the coffers of the Kentucky Revenue Cabinet in the form of new, dependable, reliable and consistent tax revenues. Revenues that are utilized to fund so many meaningful and essential services to all of our Commonwealth’s hungry and dependent. If not for these monies, over the past 10 years, where do you think the Commonwealth would have found the dollars to help our most unfortunate or uneducated? What critical social programs would have been lost or stopped?
In short, this economic engine found another gear just 10 years ago. As a result, these new monies helped create jobs and revenue to and for everyone in the mix, and even those that are remotely connected, as well.
One would think this investment in both money and people would be a good thing? Right? One would only think.
Yet, on the other side of the debate, there is a very interesting collection of objectors. Some of whom you may know or expect. Some, on the other hand, you probably are not aware of.
Soon, you will.
As you might expect, there is this group that is known as the “Family Foundation.” These religious zealots – who fashion themselves as chosen by the very hand of God to save the sinner in all of us – think they know what is best. Not only themselves, mind you. But also for you. And, me.
They think they know what you should do. They think they know what you can do. They think they should not only run your life, but ruin the lives of those FAMILIES that depend on the health, welfare and growth of the Kentucky Horse Industry. And, they think they are the only ones that can read and/or interpret the Kentucky State Constitution.
You know what is truly ironic, though?
The chief legal counsel for the Family Foundation is a chap by the name of Stan Cave. Cave is the same character who served as a main advisor to former Governor Ernie Fletcher, and a man who had to be issued a Governor’s pardon to avoid possible prosecution for alleged wrong-doing over the hiring practices with state employees back in 2006.
Yet, he is such a stalwart in our community and the legal community that he can decide what is best for you and me, and argue before the Kentucky Supreme Court?
But if you think that is disgusting, just hold your nose and on for a second. The Family Foundation – looking for shelter and any port in a storm – has laid down beside a rather interesting bed partner in this battle.
Wait for it. It’s the Stronach Group.
Yeah, the Travelling Belindas of the world – who own two of the world’s best Thoroughbred tracks in both Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita — have come to Kentucky and Frankfort. They have hired a top lobbying firm. One of the best, by the way. And, by all accounts, the Stronachs are here to attempt to block the passage of SB 120.
After all, there are no more racetrack licenses in Kentucky to be had by the Stronachs, or anyone else, for that matter. There is no way that they are here to clear a path and create more gaming revenues so that they can justify a move to our Commonwealth.
So why are they even here and in this fray, do you think?
Think about it. There are only two answers that make any sense.
Simply put, the Stronach Group is in Kentucky to do one thing: it wants to injure Kentucky’s purse structure and hurt Kentucky racing so that horses and horse people choose to race in either Florida or California, instead. More horses for them. More revenue for them.
They are here after a special invitation from the pious Family Foundation – who simply abhors gaming of any kind.
Strange Bedfellow #1.
Now, wait for it, there is – possibly — Strange Bedfellow #2.
How about some of the few, the chosen, the House Democrats. Yep, the self-proclaimed conservative Family Foundation is apparently trying to cobble together some agreement with the so-called ultra liberal Dems to wreck havoc on SB 120.
Over the past week, it has been rumored that there is a contingency of Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives that may threaten to vote as a block and assist the conservative Republicans; the morally-bankrupt Family Foundation; and the carpet-bagging Stronach group to try and defeat SB 120. For what reason, God only knows. If it is an increase in tax revenues, should that not be included in some comprehensive tax reform package that is fair and equitable to all Kentuckians? Truthfully, tax increases should not be the burden of one business. One entity. One industry group.
But, as a lifelong Democrat who still holds some of the remaining members of the now minority party as dear and precious friends, I hope that this flawed plan does not come to fruition. In fact, I hope that the House Democrat leaders quickly and finally squash any and all attempts at such lunacy.
I hope that Gov. Andy Beshear, who has been pounding the drum and his chest for the passage of SB 120, meets with each and every member of his party’s membership in the Kentucky House and convinces them individually and collectively that this is not the right thing to do.
It is not the right thing to do. It is not the time to play petty political games. It is not the time to attempt to show up the Leaders of the Majority Party (who have done a masterful job of trying to resolve this issue and mess), or have a show down in the Chamber.
One of Kentucky’s most iconic and signature industries is on the brink of either collapse or success. It is not a political football.
Many Kentucky families depend on the Kentucky horse industry, both directly and indirectly. They should not be hurt by political football.
Many social programs that assist the poor, the elderly, and the uneducated depend on state dollars – generated from and by HHR venues. They cannot afford a cut. They should not be held hostage by political football maneuvers.
There is a reason that House Dems have never laid in the same bed as Stan Cave and the self-imposed righteous.
It was unholy. And, it is still unholy. After all? I believe in helping the downtrodden and the poor. The Family Foundation believes in ruling over them, instead.
There is a reason that House Dems should not belly-up with the Stronach Group, either. The Stronachs are here for a reason. And, it ain’t to help the Kentucky Horse Racing industry. If you don’t believe me, just ask our horse industry leaders why they have not invited them to the table, and inside the room.
They are not friend. They are foe.
Let’s be honest, people. Some things simply supersede politics and political games. Some things we do without asking or demanding something in return, or a quid pro quo. Some things we just do because it is the right thing to do.
This is one of those things.
Many years ago, I was asked a very simple question by a friend from another state. He could not understand why Kentucky had so many “dry territories” – especially when you consider that Kentucky has been known world-wide as the birthplace of bourbon.
Being in the alcohol beverage industry, I spelled out the reasons for the obvious conflict.
I told my friend that, in truth, there were no “dry territories” in Kentucky. I told him, in fact, that there were only “Legally Wet Territories,” and “Illegally Wet Territories.”
In other words, I explained what would happen any time that a local jurisdiction wanted to test the issue. I told him how the illegal bootleggers would suddenly marry up with the preachers and the two of them would work collaboratively to defeat any wet vote.
A marriage of convenience. A marriage of money and power. An example of what Shakespeare wrote about a long, long time ago: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
It was wrong then. It is wrong today.
I hope the 138 members of the Kentucky General Assembly can read those same words, and hear that same message. It is time to cast aside strange bedfellows. It is time to do the right thing.
It is time to pass SB 120.
It is time to help our signature industry.