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Expanded gambling: It isn’t just for race tracks any more

Here’s an update to the story about the big expanded gambling bill that was filed yesterday.

Slot machines also would be allowed at the state’s existing race tracks under the proposal by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. In addition, the three federally recognized Indian tribes could operate a casino on their tribal lands.

“Texans already are voting with their feet and going out of state” to gamble, Ellis said. Menendez noted that Texas is “surrounded by gaming.”

Opposition immediately arose from conservative and Christian groups and a racetrack group pushing more narrowly for slot machines at tracks. Backers of Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Bill 1084, the broad gambling legislation, said their proposal would bring in at least $3 billion a year in new state and local revenue.

The legislation calls for $1 billion to be funneled to a trust fund for college scholarships and another $1 billion to transportation. Casino proponents also said their proposal would create 90,000 to 120,000 jobs.

I don’t believe any of those economic projections. Then again, I never believed the projections that the horse racing interests gave about their slots-at-racetracks proposals. I think there will be a net benefit to the state, at least in terms of revenues taken in – the bulk of the social costs will not be borne by the state, so the books will looks good – but $3 billion a year and 100,000 jobs is just crazy talk, as far as I’m concerned.

The way this is being done, as an alternative to slots-at-racetracks, will make for a fascinating dynamic in the sausagemaking process. I see it as lobbyist versus lobbyist, with some folks like the religious conservatives taking potshots from the sidelines. There’d be a hell of a reality TV show in there if someone had seen this coming early enough.

The legislation calls for $1 billion to be funneled to a trust fund for college scholarships and another $1 billion to transportation. Casino proponents also said their proposal would create 90,000 to 120,000 jobs.

Up to 12 casinos would be allowed statewide, with designated areas for nine of them: Galveston, South Padre Island, Bexar County, Tarrant County, Travis County and two each in Dallas and Harris counties.

A plan critic, Tommy Azopardi, of Texans for Economic Development, said the legislation would create a “widely disparate tax rate” between casinos and tracks (15 percent versus 35 percent), wouldn’t allow tracks to have the same games as casinos and would greatly expand “the footprint of gambling in the state.”

Casino backers said tracks could apply for one of the casino licenses but would have to go through the same process as other applicants.

I got a press release from Azopardi, not coincidentally sent by the same guy who sent me the earlier poll information, which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. It’s going to be a bear trying to sort out the objective facts from the spin on this one, that’s all I know. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the CPPP or someone like that will weigh in. In the meantime, keep your hip-waders handy.

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The primaries matter, too

A whole lot of people voted for the first time last November, and a whole lot of people voted in the March primaries, too. But some number of the former were ineligible for the latter because they turned 18 between March and November. State Rep. Hubert Vo thinks they should have been able to both, and he’s introduced a bill to that effect.

The Houston Democrat is the author of House Bill 513, which, if the Legislature approves and Gov. Rick Perry signs into law, would allow 17-year-old Texans to vote in the primaries, providing they would be 18 by no later than the day of the general election.

“A lot of young people are highly motivated to vote, and we should make it easier for them to get involved in the political process,” Vo said. “This would make our democracy stronger.”

Section 13.001 of the Texas Election Code makes it clear that besides basic requirements such as being a U.S. citizen and mentally competent, “to be eligible to apply for a registration, a person must, on the date the registration application is submitted to the registrar, be at least 17 years and 10 months of age.”

However, since the registration deadline is usually two months before the election, this means that by the time new voters cast their ballots they’ll be 18.

[…]

If Vo’s bill were to become law, Texas would become the 12th state to allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primaries, said Tom Intorcio, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut was the last state to do in November when voters approved the proposal. Oregon allows 17-year-olds to register, but they can’t vote until they are 18.

“One can make the general observation that there has been an intent in a number of states to engage youth in political process and promote political participation,” Intorcio said. “And this is one method or approach.”

[…]

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, vice chairman of the [House Elections Committee]. “It encourages participation among young people.”

But Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, said he is not sold on the idea.

“I need to take a good look at it,” Heflin said. “You need to draw the line somewhere, and right now the law is pretty clear that you have to be 18 before you can vote. I am not sure we should start making some exceptions.”

I guess I don’t see how this is an exception. Primaries are elections, too, they just happen to be held in March instead of November. In some counties, the primary for one party or the other is more important than the general, at least for local races, because of that county’s partisan makeup. Hell, that was the case in Harris County for over a decade. I don’t see any reason why someone who will be eligible to vote in the November general election should be barred from voting in the March primary. There’s no substantive difference between the two.

Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, said he’s not sure Vo’s bill is needed.

“Do you trust a 17-year-old to vote?” asked Isett, who has a son that age.

Why not? More to the point, what makes them suddenly trustworthy the day they turn 18? Some people remain knuckleheads well past that milestone, others are more mature than most adults well before it. We trust them to drive, and that requires a lot more responsibility than voting. I don’t quite get the heartburn over this. Eighteen is an arbitrary number, used as a cutoff for some things and not for others. Defining that cutoff in terms of March and not November isn’t going to cause a crack in the foundation of our democracy.

Having said that, I don’t see any chance of this happening. Maybe as a straight-up law it might have a prayer, but this actually requires a constitutional amendment; HB 513 is the enabling legislation for HJR 34. I can envision majority support for this, but not two-thirds. Still, I hope it at least gets a floor debate, if only to see if there are better arguments against it out there.

Let’s always elect our Senators

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, having seen what a farce the gubernatorial-selection process for replacing Senators has been this year, proposes to do something about it:

The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people. I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute. As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.

He goes into greater detail here.

I do not make this proposal lightly. In fact, I have opposed dozens of constitutional amendments during my time in the Senate, particularly those that would have interfered with the Bill of Rights. The Constitution should not be treated like a rough draft. Constitutional amendments should be considered only when a statutory remedy to a problem is not available, and when the impact of the issue at hand on the structure of our government, the safety, welfare, or freedoms of our citizens, or the survival of our democratic republic is so significant that an amendment is warranted. This is such a case.

The fact that the people of four states, comprising over 12 percent of the entire population of the country, will be represented for the next two years by someone they did not elect is contrary to the purpose of the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of Senators. That is not to say that people appointed to Senate seats are not capable of serving, or will not do so honorably. I have no reason to question the fitness for office of any of the most recent appointees, and I look forward to working with them. But people who want to be a U.S. Senator should have to make their case to the people whom they want to represent, not just the occupant of the governor’s mansion. And the voters should choose them in the time-honored way that they choose the rest of the Congress of the United States.

This proposal is not simply a response to these latest cases. Those cases have simply confirmed my longstanding view that Senate appointments by state governors are an unfortunate relic of the time when state legislatures elected U.S. Senators. This system was replaced by direct elections by the citizens of each state following the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913. Direct election of Senators was championed by the great progressive Bob La Follette, who served as Wisconsin’s Governor and a U.S. Senator. Indeed, my state of Wisconsin is now one of only three states (Oregon and Massachusetts are the others) that require a special election to fill a Senate vacancy. But the vast majority of states still rely on the appointment system. Changing this system state by state would be a long and difficult process, particularly since Governors have the power to veto state statutes that would take this power away from them. We need to finish the job started by La Follette and other reformers nearly a century ago. Nobody can represent the people in the House of Representatives without the approval of the voters. The same should be true for the Senate.

I think this makes a lot of sense, and even if it never gets officially ratified, I think Feingold’s actions may spur more states to change their own processes. For what it’s worth, I think Texas’ process of an appointment followed by a special election on the next uniform election date is good enough for these purposes. I’d rather have someone in office for the few months it takes for the next election date to roll around than have only one Senator represent the state. But clearly a two-year appointment, however well-intentioned and however well-qualified the appointee may be, just doesn’t cut it any more. I hope this proposal gets plenty of traction.