By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
This is like a Western with no gunplay. Today, two roughly evenly matched groups of Republican lawmakers are going to square off in the Alabama House of Representatives to decide the fate of Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) State General Fund lottery constitutional amendment, Senate Bill Three (SB3).
SB3 was sponsored by State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville). Even though Republicans have a commanding super majority in the House, it will be Democrats who decide which group of GOP Representatives get to declare their victory at the end of the day. As increasingly is becoming common in the Alabama legislature, it is not Democrats versus Republicans, but dueling factions of Republicans battling each other. Each side has to reach across the aisle to the Democratic minority to find allies to use against their fellow Republican lawmakers in today’s showdown.
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) said on Facebook, “The House goes into session tomorrow at 10 AM to debate the Governor’s lottery bill. Based on what happened yesterday in the House, there is no way to predict what is going to happen tomorrow during the debate.”
Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chairman Alan Harper (R-Northport) is carrying SB3 on the House floor. Chairman Harper refused to allow any amendments be added to the bill, which received a favorable report from the committee.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) told the Alabama Political Reporter that, “We may have gotten rid of the imperial speaker, but we still have the imperial Chairman,” referring to Chairman Harper’s refusal to consider amendments in Wednesday’s committee meeting. Ford said that there would be a number of amendments that they would try to add from the House floor to improve the bill. Among these are funding for volunteer fire departments and more funding for education.
State Representative Artis “A.J” McCampbell (D-Livingston) told reporters that he wanted the virtual lottery machines at the dog tracks added to the bill. McCampbell said that he supports a lottery, but thinks the bill needs to be better.
Virtual lottery machines (VLMs) were a part of the ill fated SB11, also sponsored by Sen. McClendon, that died in the Senate last week. The gaming machines would have been allowed at the Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland, Greenetrack, and the Mobile Dog Track.
State Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) said in a statement, “The bill is flawed and needs a lot of work to secure the future of our conservative values, in a state where gambling interests are hungry to control us. Gambling lobbyist are working diligently to manipulate our constitution for their benefit. It is our responsibility to give the people of Alabama, who only get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, the cleanest proposal possible. Unfortunately that requires time and effort.”
Rep. Ford told the Alabama Political Reporter that the best thing to do would be to shut down the whole session and come back in the 2017 regular session and work on this then. Ford blamed Republicans and said that in six years they have shown that they can’t lead.
Rep. Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa County) is opposing the lottery on moral grounds. Rep. Wingo told the Alabama Political Reporter that 86 percent of people who buy a lottery ticket are at or below the poverty line.
Wingo said that Nevada legalized gambling and now it leads the entire world in the rate of suicides, divorces, and bankruptcies.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Madison) is fast tracking Gov. Bentley’s lottery bill. On Wednesday, the new Speaker warned members that they should be prepared to stay overnight in Montgomery because this is going to be a long session. McCutcheon said that whether or not the House will go in to session or not on Friday depends on how much they get done on Thursday.
Wingo said that lottery opponents do have a “game plan” for today; but declined to give us any details.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Chairman Harper: the people of Alabama gave Republicans total control of everything down here. Yesterday, approximately 32 Republicans voted against this. If almost half of the Republican Caucus is opposed to something this major, a constitutional amendment, how does the Republican Caucus even allow this to be entered on the House floor?”
Harper said that Tuesday’s vote was a procedural vote. It was not a vote on this bill.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Rep. Wingo the same question.
“That is a very good question,” he responded.