Two weeks ago, Senate leaders in Raleigh were unable to muster enough votes to pass a state-run lottery. After a marathon twenty-and-a-half-hour session, Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight told the Senate that they had concluded their business for the year, there would be no more votes taken, and the lottery would not be considered until May 2006. But only two days after this announcement, Basnight sent out a notice to Senate members that, in fact, the Senate would return on Tuesday, August 30, for a full session and vote on the lottery might be taken.
During the weekend, it was reported that two lottery opponents were expected to be absent from the Senate when it was to convene on Tuesday. Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) was on his honeymoon. Sen. John Garwood (R-Wilkes) was at home recovering from a leg infection and upon doctor's orders would be unable to return.
Although expected to be absent from the Senate floor, both senators could have had their "no" votes paired with a "yes" vote of members present. Pairing, which is an old Senate tradition, would have cancelled out any difference caused by their absence, thereby keeping the weight of support against the lottery at what it was the week before, 26-24. But without their votes paired, the vote would be a tie of 24-24 and Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue would certainly cast the deciding vote for the lottery.
By Monday, August 29, efforts to contact Sen. Brown had been futile. He was reportedly out of the country and his vote not paired. According to the press, Senator John Garwood had indicated he had no plans to return and had not sought to be paired.
At 4:00 a.m. Tuesday, August 30, I left my home in Kenly and drove 200 miles to the home of Sen. John Garwood in North Wilkesboro. At 8:15 a.m. I was standing on Garwood's doorstep and was invited in by the legislator. I explained to Garwood that everything regarding the lottery's passage hinged on what he would do. I also explained to the legislator his spiritual and political duties in the matter and urged him to pair. I can't give the specifics about what we discussed because I don't want to break any confidentiality. He was very gracious, receptive, and hospitable. When I left and started my drive back, I was in route to the General Assembly and optimistic he would do the right thing.
Garwood did do the right thing -- at first. Within an hour I received a phone call on my cell phone from a colleague saying that Garwood had paired, which was later confirmed by Garwood in a phone call I made to the senator about the matter. But approximately an hour later, I received another phone call from the same colleague who had called earlier; this time to say Garwood had changed his mind and reversed his position. It was devastating. We had refortified the line! We still had a 25-24 margin! And in a moment we had lost it! How could this happen, I thought.
Upon arriving at the General Assembly, I went directly to the office of Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the Senate Minority Leader. I had hoped perhaps the Republican leadership might prevail upon Garwood to change his position back to pair. Berger explained to me that before my arrival at the General Assembly, a conference call had taken place with the Senate leadership to determine for certain Garwood's position. Included in that phone call were Senators Marc Basnight (D-Dare), Tony Rand (R-Cumberland), David Hoyle (D-Gaston), Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson). During the call, Rand and Basnight sought to persuade Garwood the lottery would be good for education. It was at that time Garwood changed his position and decided not to pair. Later, Berger and Senator Jerry Tilman (R-Randolph) had a separate phone call with Garwood (a phone call that actually took place while I was waiting in the lobby of Berger's office) and expressed it was the desire of the Republican caucus that he pair his vote against the lottery. Garwood's decision was once again not to pair.
Only minutes later, the N.C. Senate convened and HB 1023 North Carolina State Lottery Act was taken up for consideration. Although everyone was fairly certain how the vote would come out, there were passionate remarks made against the measure. Senator Andrew Brock (R-Davie) said, "Is this a lesson we teach our children? 'Don't do your homework, don't work hard, You'll make it rich.'" Senator Ham Horton (R-Forsyth) argued, "The lottery is nothing but a fleecing of the people of North Carolina." Senator Jim Jacumin (R-Burke) was quite eloquent when he contended, "Senators, if God can't bless it, we shouldn't be doing it." When the debate had seemingly wound down, Senator Rand called for the previous question and the vote was taken, resulting in a 24-24 tie -- which, as expected, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue broke by voting "Aye" in favor of the lottery.
When the third reading of the bill was to be taken, Hugh Webster (R-Alamance) objected. But Perdue contended that since lawmakers had previously voted to suspend the rules, a third reading could be taken immediately and not held over for another day. After three very loud objections by Webster, Perdue called for a voice vote on the third reading, which she gave to the "Ayes."
Perdue's waiving of the third reading's requirements may be unconstitutional, however. Article II, Section 23 of the state constitution reads: No laws shall be enacted to raise money on the credit of the State, or to pledge the faith of the State directly or indirectly for the payment of any debt, or to impose any tax upon the people of the State, or to allow the counties, cities, or towns to do so, unless the bill for the purpose shall have been read three several times in each house of the General Assembly and passed three several readings, which readings shall have been on three different days .... Incidentally, ignoring the third reading also occurred when the bill was voted on in the House. It seems both the House and Senate leadership believe that either a decision by a presiding member or a majority vote by legislators present can be sufficient to suspend this rule. But the third reading isn't simply a rule -- it's a constitutional mandate regarding revenue bills or taxes. An argument might be made that the lottery is a "revenue bill." It acts either as an income tax on the lottery as a business enterprise or a tax on the sale of lottery tickets to buyers. Moreover, the start-up equipment for the lottery is purchased by the State in anticipation of lottery revenues not received, which is essentially a form of buying on credit. Citizens United Against the Lottery is currently investigating the possibility of a court challenge. The Christian Action League is also looking into the matter on its own.
On Wednesday, August 31, Governor Mike Easley signed the bill into law. The signing ceremony took place in the old House chamber of the State Capitol. Easley proclaimed that the signing was a historic day for North Carolina. "In the house it passed by one vote. In the Senate it passed by one vote. And I just signed ..." he said.
Easley is right. The signing of HB 1023 was a historic day -- but not as the governor thinks. That unholy trinity of votes that passed the lottery has deeply corrupted State government; so much so, our State motto, "Esse Quam Videri" -- which means "To Be Rather Than to Seem" -- is no longer true. We have now entered the gambling business' world of vice and deception. Only a miracle in the courts could possibly change matters.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.