There are two ways to keep a state lottery from starting in North Carolina, if that's your bent. One is to launch a massive public relations campaign to defeat it once the General Assembly votes to put it on the ballot--the May 2002 primary elections ballot is likeliest, we're told.
That's the expensive, time-consuming way, probably not the best one for people with other things they'd like to accomplish in their lives. It also has the disadvantage of uncertainty, since polls show a clear majority of the voters in favor of a lottery today.
The inexpensive, quick and sure method: Beat the lottery now in the state House of Representatives. Knowledgeable people at the state Capitol say that the Senate, overwhelmingly Democratic, is ready and willing to approve putting the lottery to a public referendum, but the Democrats don't want to cast a useless, controversial vote in favor if the House isn't going to approve it too. And in the House, Democratic by just a 62-58 margin, it's not clear that a majority can be found to back the lottery plans of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.
Thus the charge to us citizens from lottery opponents--and proponents--alike: Lobby the House. But which members? If Easley is looking for votes from the Triangle delegation, he's going to have to go to work. The Independent called the 13 House members from Triangle districts to see where they stand. The question: Will you vote in favor of a public referendum on the lottery? The results (DNR = Did not respond):
Rep. Dan Blue (D-Wake):
Rep. Russell Capps (R-Wake): No
Rep. Bob Hensley (D-Wake):
Rep. Rick Eddins (R-Wake):
Rep. Sam Ellis (R-Wake):
Rep. David Miner (R-Wake):
Rep. Art Pope (R-Wake):
Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake):
Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham):
Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham):
Rep. Paul Miller (D-Durham):
Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange):
Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange):
Blue, Michaux and Miller are all members of the Democratic Black Caucus. Blue, a former House speaker, opposed the lottery in the past. Neither he nor Michaux called us back, however, once the question was put, suggesting that, like Miller, they're not willing to be pinned down just yet.
As for Eddins, he and fellow conservative Capps usually think alike. And Capps was the first to call back. "I'm against the lottery," he said simply. "I hope you are too."
Miner, the lone "yes" vote, said he's had the same position on the lottery in each of the five elections he's won: He doesn't favor the lottery himself, but he thinks the people should be allowed the vote on it. However, he added, he's been specific in talking about a lottery tied to an education program like the one in Georgia, where lottery proceeds support college scholarships. If that's not what the money would be used for here, Miner said he wouldn't help put it on the ballot.
That's exactly opposite the position taken by fellow Republican Ellis, who has achieved a certain fame on the issue at the Capitol with his "Prostitution NOW for Education" bumper stickers. (Proponents' bumper stickers say "Lottery NOW for Education." So Ellis says, if it's just a question of "whatever's legal? ... ") Ellis says he has a libertarian view on the lottery issue: "If you want to get drunk on Mad Dog 20/20, there's not much I can do about it."
But Ellis balks at telling the public that a lottery will somehow "pay" for education. More than half the state's $14 billion budget goes to education, and a lottery will bring in maybe $300 million. He'll support a referendum if the lottery proceeds would go into the general fund, he said, but will not if the issue is pitched as pro-education--and since that's what Easley is pitching, Ellis put himself in the "no" column.
A third Republican, Art Pope, thinks the question of whether to have a lottery is an issue for the General Assembly to decide, and that bucking it to the public in a referendum would violate the state constitution. Pope notes that North Carolina is among the minority of states that do not have an "initiative and referendum" process by which citizens can put legislative questions on the ballot by petition. He has introduced a bill to add "I&R" to the state constitution, but until it's enacted, the legislature cannot delegate its responsibility to make the laws to the public.
"I think you'll see a legal challenge" if a lottery referendum passes the legislature, Pope said.
Four Democratic legislators answered our question with a simple "no." They were Rep. Joe Hackney, the House majority leader, Paul Luebke, Bob Hensley and Verla Insko. Insko said she, too, thinks the lottery is a question the General Assembly should decide, rather than give the gambling industry a chance "to flood the public with, ah, partial information." North Carolina needs to find "reliable sources of income" to support needed public programs, Insko said, and not depend on lottery revenues.
Weiss said she thinks the argument that a lottery referendum would be unconstitutional is "very strong."
For the rest of the Triangle's Democrats, however, the issue is awkward, given Easley's support for a lottery and polls that show Democratic voters, more than Republicans, in favor.
Rep. Miller, a first-term member, said he's torn between Easley's argument that North Carolina is losing money to Virginia's lottery and the fact that a lottery "encourages non-productive consumer behavior," as he put it. "It's not the lottery itself so much as the marketing of the lottery that's the problem," Miller said.
Without knowing what restrictions a lottery bill might put on advertising, he said, he can't say for sure how he'll vote on it. But he has his own bill that would require the schools to teach consumer education--including why buying lottery tickets is a lousy investment.
Interestingly, several of the Democrats said the governor's office isn't lobbying them at all on the issue. Easley never fails to add, after saying he's pro-lottery, that if the legislature's got a better way to raise $300 million a year, he's open to it. For now, apparently, he's content to let them ponder the alternatives by themselves.