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Griffith’s lottery rhetoric is absurd, but Bentley’s making it worse by not taking a hard stand (opinion)

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (Photo: Yellowhammer)

In 1999, then-Governor Don Siegelman, lobbied Alabamians as hard as he could to approve a so called “education lottery” for the state of Alabama. The Alabama Democratic Party pushed so hard for it that they were still a half million dollars in debt from their lottery campaign almost 15 years later.

In spite of their efforts, Alabamians soundly rejected the lottery, with 54 percent casting a ballot against it in a statewide vote that saw an unusually high 50 percent turnout among registered voters.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Democratic nominee Ron Sparks made advocating for the lottery the center piece of his campaign. Republican Robert Bentley defeated him with 58 percent of the vote.

So it seems a bit far-fetched for Democrats to continuously claim that the voices of Alabamians have somehow been silenced on the issue of a lottery. Yet here we are again, four years later and Democratic nominee for governor Parker Griffith has made the lottery one of his only campaign issues, alongside Medicaid expansion.

“Everybody wants an education lottery,” the first person in Griffith’s latest television ad (above) proclaims, clearly without much regard for the facts.

“The only thing standing in our way is Robert Bentley,” Griffith adds, in an equally absurd statement.

He’s forgetting the entire Legislative branch of Alabama’s government, which is controlled by Republicans who have been pretty explicit about where they stand on the lottery.

In order for the lottery to make it onto a statewide ballot, the Legislature would have to approve a constitutional amendment calling for it.

That’s not going to happen.

“We are working to put more money into the pockets of hardworking Alabamians, while Democrats want to take it out,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said in response to the lottery question.

Any lottery-related bill would likely be assigned to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, where it would have little chance of even advancing to the full House for a vote.

“Just four years ago, the Democratic nominee for governor made the creation of a statewide lottery his one and only issue, and he was soundly defeated in that race,” said Republican House Majority Leader Micky Hammon. He’s vice chairman of the aforementioned committee and clearly has no interest in passing a lottery bill.

But rather than just squashing the lottery talk once and for all, Gov. Bentley is opposing the lottery on one hand, while on the other hand trying to pass on the responsibility for shutting it down. The goal, presumably, is to keep the evangelical conservative base happy by opposing it personally, while not alienating the pro-lottery crowd by saying it’s not his fault they won’t get to vote on it — again. The result is that the lottery issue remains, well, an issue.

But it didn’t have to be.

When Yellowhammer asked Gov. Bentley’s communications director last December whether he would ever consider pushing for a vote on the lottery, she responded with one word: “No.”

We went months without writing another word about it because that was that.

Yet when a Bentley campaign spokesperson was asked this week about Griffith’s ad, she said this:

“…Our Democratic opponent says Governor Bentley is opposed to an education lottery. There is not one grain of truth in that statement, our opponent knows it and the people of this state know it. This is nothing more than a negative political statement that has become a common practice by our Democratic opponent in this campaign. Governor Bentley supports the people’s right to vote on an education lottery, that’s a fact and our Democratic opponent knows it.”

From “no” to “there is not one grain of truth in the statement” that Gov. Bentley opposes a lottery is a long way to go in a few months.

The most accurate reflection of Gov. Bentley’s true feelings on a lottery probably came in July of this year when he said this to a crowd of business leaders in Huntsville:

“I believe in the right of the people of Alabama to vote on anything. So, if the legislature wants to pass it, and people vote for it, then I’m all for it.”

Anything?

In that case, does Gov. Bentley support Alabamians’ right to vote to legalize gay marriage? What about marijuana?

Not a chance. But in spite of organized pushes on both of those issues, they haven’t received much attention, at least in part because there is no ambiguity about the governor’s position.

Sometimes the best way to turn an issue into a non-issue is to just take a hard stand and be done with it.

There will not be a statewide vote on a lottery in Alabama any time in the foreseeable future. I know that. The reporters who cover the issue ad nauseum know that. Parker Griffith knows that. Everyone in the Alabama Legislature knows that.

And Gov. Bentley knows that, too.

Now if he would just say as much…


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims