Politics & Casinos

Kentucky reverted to the same machine-driven type of governance that has obtained for what seems forever when democrat Steve Beshear was elected governor last November. He followed a republican governor whose administration was flawed from the outset because of bureaucrats who were both greedy for power and unbelievably incompetent. They did-in the administration in large part simply because of their ignorance in the use (or non-use) of e-mails.

The abuse of the merit system was the immediate point of rupture, but such abuse has been so flagrant within democrat administrations for so long that it has been generally accepted as just part of the political turf wars. Democrat attorneys general routinely have turned a blind eye to it, but a democrat AG with an opportunity to sink a republican governor while enhancing his own ambitions to be governor pulled the coup. His effort backfired on his own agenda-prerogatives, but that's another story.

Ironically, Governor Beshear's outfit pulled the same number – abuse of a merit-system employee – just days after he took office. A democrat attorney general won't touch this with a ten-foot pole for obvious reasons. His ostensible reason probably would be that this flagrant abuse belongs before some ethics panel, not the all-important AG's office, which has better things to do. So, the employee can just find himself a lawyer interested in a contingency deal and go to court, where he's guaranteed to win some of the taxpayers' money.

Precisely as is the case in every election aftermath, the governor claims he is confronted with financial problems so severe that there's no answer. Of course, there's always an answer, but the easiest answer for this governor (and maybe a bunch of bureaucrats smelling easy money) is to bring in the casinos and, just as in the case of the smokers, put the onus for balancing the budget and building great edifices to his honor on the backs of the gamblers. After promising "no new taxes" (which are, of course, what new cigarette taxes are), he's faced with the task of actually running the government with what he has – the very thing he was elected to do.

It gets better as the "machine" kicks-in. The guv insists that casino gaming (euphemism for gambling…sounds better) will save the state, and has now recommended a constitutional amendment of some 93 words for referendum in November, with the word "casino" appearing about halfway through. The prologue to "casino" indicates that the gambling stiff will practically turn Kentucky into Camelot, Paradise, and Utopia combined. Indeed, the amendment even provides survival for the sucker who plunges too deeply in his ministrations to the state and winds up…well, however…maybe a reserved cot in a homeless shelter.

Predictably, one need only to follow the money to see whom the action – besides the state, of course – will benefit. That money-trail leads to a big-time casino magnate (also in big-time trouble) who just happened to support the guv's campaign and inauguration festivities with thousands upon thousands of greenbacks. That money-trail leads also to the "horsy set," the folks who, by the requirements of the accompanying legislation, not only can't lose but stand to reap huge windfalls since they get a 30% advantage over off-track casino-operators in retaining proceeds from the tax-man. The reason: to keep the horse industry from falling into disrepair in case the bettor's forsake the ponies for the slots. Translated: Guffaws to swing the power-lines on Main Street as the horsy-set-gang waltzes to the bank.

It's the "machine mentality" that drives things. Governor Beshear was a state representative in the early 70s, attorney general in the late 70s and lieutenant governor in the 80s. He also had flings at the governorship and U.S Senate after that, but was the victim of sandy factionalism – or whatever – that ground the gears to a halt for a while. Now, the machine is well-oiled again and off to a great start.

There is a bit of hang-up, of course…with the machine. The state Senate became republican-dominated in 1998, a traumatic experience from which democrats have not yet fully recovered, especially since it is heavily republican now. Whereas all legislation was decided upon before 1998 in the House democratic caucus – floor votes meant little in either assembly – it is now subject, sometimes cruelly, to actions by the Senate, which at this point provides such formidable opposition to the casino-cookie that even democrats in the House don't like the prospect of perhaps voting the wrong way on something that fails.

Kentucky is in its groove again, except, of course, for the pesky Senate. The machine is being lubricated and the apparatchiks are rubbing their grubby hands together in glee. With the attorney general counted on to be looking the other way, the sky's the limit…a lesson too late for the learning by the previous administration. The federal sting of some 15-20 years ago, dubbed Operation BopTrot, involved convictions of legislators who accepted bribes and other illegal inducements to support horse-racing legislation. This new gang had better watch it.