It was certainly one of the saddest days of my life. Lottery proponents were grinning from ear to ear, quite proud of themselves. They had pulled it off. But in the process, the North Carolina House sold the state's soul to the devil.
April 6, 2005, is a day that future generations of North Carolinians will come to rue. House Speaker Jim Black, who created a House Select Committee to study the lottery -- which incidentally was stacked with lottery supporters -- pushed through a lottery bill. Two hours before session, the Committee met and approved lottery legislation with no meaningful debate. The measure was then sent directly to the House floor and passed by a 61-59 margin.
When the vote was announced, Speaker Black said that without objection the third reading would take place. Despite the fact that there were numerous objections and one very vocal point of order, the Speaker forced a final vote, which was a voice vote that he ruled passed the measure.
The Speaker's actions were a gross violation of parliamentary procedure, which requires a revenue measure to be held over for a final vote at least one day. When the vote is close and objections on the third reading are raised, lawmakers are given that extra time to carefully consider whether they have cast the right vote. Of course, the Speaker's objective was not fairness, but instead to ramrod a lottery bill through the House. Should the legislation have lingered for another day, the final outcome of the vote may have been different.
What is more, the arguments made by certain lawmakers on the House floor in favor of the lottery were unbelievably shallow and morally bankrupt!
Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Kinston) argued that our nation's founding fathers approved of lotteries. But Laroque conveniently left out some critical information in his citing of lottery history. According to G. Robert Blakey, in State Conducted Lotteries: History, Problems and Promises, the minimum amount that could be wagered might be as high as $10, which was a very significant minimum in the 17th and 18th centuries that was designed to prevent the poor from being preyed upon unduly. By the early 19th century, strong opposition developed against legalized lotteries for three reasons: (1) lotteries were considered a drain on the economy, (2) many lotteries were fraudulent, and (3) lotteries contributed significantly to crime and poverty.
Of all the legislators that argued for a lottery, none offered a more spurious argument than Rep. Mickey Michaux (D- Durham). Michaux argued that the state shouldn't be legislating morality. As John Stossel says, "Please, give me a break!" Was not our country in its finest hours legislating morality when it addressed issues like: forced child labor, indentured servitude, slavery, lack of education for the exploited poor, giving women the right to vote, and civil rights for blacks? It's foolish to think we can legislate anything but morality. All legislation is the codification of someone's value system. The truth of the matter is, lawmakers either legislate morality or immorality.
Rep. Ronnie Sutton (D-Lumberton) contended a lottery was completely voluntary. People don't have to play if they don't want to play, he said. Sutton said that in his hometown he often visits a neighborhood store where the wall is lined with beer for sale. He said he didn't have to buy that beer; he could walk right by it and not be affected. But only last year, Sutton stood before the N.C. House and was stalwart in his opposition to video poker, saying video poker machines in local convenience stores and other places ought to be banned. What? You mean, a person can't walk by a video poker machine and not be affected too? Where is the logic in wanting to ban video poker and legalize a lottery? Could it be certain lawmakers are bent on eliminating video poker only because that way the state gets a bigger piece of the gambling pie in a lottery? How corrupt!!!
Rep. Alma Adams (D-Greensboro) said people could be addicted to many things, but she was going to vote for a lottery in support of education. How sad that Adams and others like her can so easily dismiss the plight of over 300,000 new pathological gamblers that the lottery will create in North Carolina. Moreover, it was truly sad that a large delegation of students from North Carolina's schools watched and listened from the gallery as Adams made the case for state-sponsored gambling -- a way of life which undermines the work ethic, sacrifice, and the kind of moral responsibility that sustains democratic life. Is that what we want to teach our kids?
Although I deeply respect House Speaker Jim Black and the other legislators mentioned for their commitment to public service, what took place on Wednesday of last week was state government run afoul. It was wrong, wrong, wrong!!! It was a dark day for North Carolina.
The measure now moves to the North Carolina Senate. Would the Senate consider an old proverb the House obviously didn't: "If virtue is the object of a man's affections, the fruits of wisdom's labors are the virtues; temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, these are her teaching, and in the life of men there is nothing of more value than these."
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.