Kentucky has a lot of awesome things. A state park called “Big Bone Lick” is just one of them. A crazy-ass Governor who’s willing to slash education by $50 Million while handing $43 Million to a creationist theme park that will build a giant Noah’s Ark complete with dinosaurs adorning the boat alongside men is another.
We’ve also got some cool rivalries. The Hatfields and McCoys. UK and Louisiville. Our coal-bought politicians and the lives of real human beings in Eastern Kentucky.
But one thing Kentucky has until now lacked is a great inter-tourism rivalry.
Ken Ham, the fully evolved brain behind the Creation Museum and the Biblically accurate Dinosaur Ark Park, recently lashed out at the Kentucky Horse Park because horses are actually bunnies or something which basically boils down to, yes, Ken Ham lecturing scientists on how evolution really happened.
Yes. The guy who believes dudes used to live 8 centuries as recently as like three millenia ago is also an expert on horse evolution.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, wrote a blog post published Saturday titled “Kentucky Horses Will Lead You Astray,” which challenges the validity of a permanent display.
Ham contends the idea of horse evolution is false, and he particularly disputes the line of prehistoric horses that scientists link to the modern horse.
Ham writes that in the display, two early horses, Miohippus and Merychippus, grow steadily bigger.
“What’s the problem, though, with the belief that horses somehow evolved into larger and larger animals? If that were true, shouldn’t we see only very large horses today? But we don’t — horses vary in size from the Clydesdale to the much smaller Fallabella (just 17 inches tall).”
Obviously the very best part of this (there’s more, read it all) is that Steve Beshear is giving tax breaks to Ken Ham’s theme park and Ken Ham is picking fights with the established state industry theme park.
That’s a great rivalry that is sure to increase Kentucky’s tourism brand and just goes to show you that you can give the crazy pretend Bible “literalist” $43 Million in taxpayer subsidy, but you can’t domesticate him. He is no horse, certainly not a very large one.
Connie Kordenbrock has lived in Boone County for all of her 53 years and has run an embroidery shop in a trailer on Turfway’s back side for the last 14.
“The horse industry in Kentucky is dying and this is just another nail in the coffin,” Kordenborck said. “We can’t continue to expect the horsemen to just hold on.”
Kordenbrock does the embroidery work for horsemen on items such as saddlecloths, blankets and jockeys’ silks and is one of many almost invisible workers that support the industry.
With the failure of the gambling bill, folks are looking elsewhere:
Will Hall, who owns and trains about a dozen horses at Turfway, said he will probably have to uproot his family and move to Pennsylvania or Indiana, where gambling at racetracks supplements the purse structure.
“They say people always tear up when they play ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ at the Kentucky Derby,” Hall said. “This year I’m going to tear up too, because I’ll probably be watching it from my new home in Pennsylvania. This is such a shame.”
If Turfway fails it creates a hole in the Kentucky racing calendar. While currently we have near year-round racing, as the theory goes, leaving Turfway weakens the other tracks.
It’s funny that much of the reasoned opposition to gambling has circled around some objection to the state government underwriting one industry. We’ve been underwriting the coal industry for years… but most of those objectors don’t seem to have a problem with that.
Alternately, while there is a lot of hand-wringing over the death of the gambling bill and the Senate’s decision to not let Kentucky voters decide the issue directly… one could look at it another way. If the gambling bill had gone to a statewide vote in November and then been voted down by the people, that would really shut the door on the issue. As it is, there is still (in theory) a chance for some sort of “expanded gaming” to happen and it’s not totally dependent on a statewide vote. Obviously that’s a long shot, but sometimes people like a silver lining.
Since Thursday’s failed vote on Beshear’s gambling amendment, many around the Bluegrass and the Commonwealth have noted the sacrifice Damon Thayer made. They have lauded him for taking a stand, for crossing party lines, putting his reputation at risk, to co-sponsor the bill that could — as the argument goes — save the thoroughbred industry.
But is Damon Thayer deserving of this praise?
Or did Damon Thayer outplay everyone, working both sides to achieve his own ends?
The Paulick Report pronounced Damon a “Winner” in the 2012 Gambling battle, writing:
Since the beginning of 2012, no one has laid it on the line politically like Sen. Thayer. The horse industry destroyed him just a few years ago for not going along with a statutory approach to expanded gaming. And yet, he stood up to immense pressure from his own Republican caucus and right-wing base of supporters to bring forth the constitutional amendment bill he promised the industry when he first ran for office.
Let’s take a closer look at what Damon Thayer has done — and how he’s done it — since the beginning of 2012.
Thayer hails from Georgetown, just across Fayette County’s border. He represents Scott, Owen, Grant and Kenton Counties. A Kentucky Colonel (who isn’t?), he is a member of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce, the NRA and Kentucky Right to Life.
He is the Chair of the Senate standing committee on State and Local Government and in that capacity he was in charge of the Senate’s redistricting process. The map Thayer drew, ruled unconstitutional on Friday by the Kentucky Supreme Court, removed Fayette County Senator Kathy Stein from office, relocating her 13th District seat to Northeastern Kentucky and replacing her with a Senator from a county three hours drive to the West.
Senate State and Local Government Chairman Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said moving Stein out of Fayette County was not political retaliation. The move was necessary to redraw Senate district lines to reflect the state’s shifting population, he said.
….Thayer did not answer a reporter when asked if Williams had ordered that Stein’s district be moved because of a vendetta. Stein said she was glad that Thayer at least did not lie. Williams later said he did not direct Thayer to move Stein’s district.
Upon signing the unconstitutional Senate and House redistricting maps into short-lived law on January 20th, Governor Beshear expressed unguarded skepticism about Thayer/Williams’ claim of a lack of coordination:
Beshear blasted Williams, accusing him of personally ordering Stein’s district to be moved. “The action directed by the Senate president to move Senator Kathy Stein’s district in Lexington to northeast Kentucky in order to keep her from being able to run for re-election, and moving Western Kentucky Sen. Dorsey Ridley’s district to Lexington, goes beyond partisanship. It reflects a personal vindictiveness that should have no place in this process.”
Political observers across the spectrum recognized that Williams and Thayer had worked together to craft the Senate redistricting map, in part a retaliation for the Democrat-controlled House plan which disenfranchised several Republican representatives, in part to settle partisan grudges and flex political muscle.
Days after the Governor signed the Thayer/Williams redistricting map into law, the Herald reported that Thayer would cross party lines to sponsor the Casino Gambling Amendment:
Senate State and Local Government chairman Damon Thayer of Georgetown said Wednesday he was “strongly leaning” toward sponsoring Gov. Steve Beshear’s constitutional amendment to expand gambling.
….Thayer said Williams “has said publicly and told me privately that he will not stand in the way of a constitutional amendment coming to a vote in the Senate. I have no reason not to take him at his word.”
Indeed Thayer did support the amendment, appearing with Beshear to introduce it and then pushing it out of his own State and Local Government Senate Committee for the full, and failed, Senate vote.
Thayer, a horse industry proponent and former racing executive, said after the vote he believes a constitutional amendment is the only way to address the issue. He noted he opposed gaming-via-statute legislation a few years ago. “I paid the price for that but I was able to look myself in the mirror, and I can look myself in the mirror now,” Thayer said. “Other states have done (expanded gambling) by statute, but it is wrong. I’m not afraid to give people the opportunity to decide this issue. This is a democracy.”
Thayer was against casino gambling before he was for it but even when he was for it, Damon Thayer was never really in favor of it. He just wanted to let the voters decide.
That’s the Damon Thayer narrative this time around.
Just like last time, Thayer doesn’t actually support gambling but this time he professed to support the peoples’ vote.
That’s a nuanced position and any in the horse industry or in the state who wish to laud Thayer for trying should take a moment to fully consider Thayer’s actual purpose.
Thayer’s strategy allowed Damon Thayer to
Represent the horse interests of Scott County.
Represent the anti-gambling interests of the increasingly conservative voters of the rest of his Northern Kentucky district.
Put forward the vote under veil of giving voters what they wanted.
Coordinate the Senate vote’s timing with Senate Prez David Williams.
Ultimately lead the Bill into Williams’ buzzsaw.
Weaken the Governor.
Strengthen his own political position with both sides.
This positioning creates political capital with both sides. For the far right religious voters who opposed gambling on a Biblical premise, Thayer delivers a CYA under guise of “letting people decide.” For anyone on the inside of the KY GOP, word is whispered out that Thayer is very much on their team — as he has always been in the past — and acted out of expediency to his horse constituency while strengthening his overall statewide position.
Thayer is not pro-gambling. Thayer saw polls from the horse industry and from the Republican Party which showed a wide majority of Kentucky voters wanted to vote directly on the initiative (regardless of their support or opposition to it). Thayer presents himself as someone who has opposed gambling in the past but wishes to let the people decide this time while simultaneously planning with Williams a way to kill the bill, keep people from ultimately voting and, in the process, weaken the Governor. No gambling, no problem. A win/win.
Thayer’s committee passed the bill on Wednesday. On Thursday, David Williams announced he would bring it to a vote even though he knew full-well three “Yes” votes (all Democrats) would not be in attendance.
Ultimately, two of those three hastily re-scheduled and made it to Frankfort but the third “Yes” remained unavailable.
The bill needed 23 votes to carry. Given the divisivness of the issue and the prolonged madness of the ultimately failed Thayer/Williams/Stumbo/Beshear redistricting mess, a handful of votes remained in the balance. Senators were hesitant to take a stand one way or another without knowing what district and which voters they would be voting to represent and down the road seeking re-election from (and in this way, Thayer could be given credit for killing the bill twice, if you’re willing to acknowledge it).
Beshear said he had 23 votes. Thayer said there were 23 votes. One of those is at worst wishful thinking while the other is at best being honest.
In the middle, perhaps, there is truth.
Still unsure of their ultimate electoral districts (thanks, again, to the T/W/S/B redistricting debacle) the swing Senators who could vote Yay or could vote Nay on casino gambling and thus could account for the needed 23 were further compromised by David Williams move to force the vote on Thursday, when three of the 23 needed Yes votes were unavailable.
Even after two of those Yesses showed up, one was still missing. While some have stressed the wide margin of the eventual vote — 16 to 21 — as evidence the votes were never there to begin with, another explanation is that the missing six voters were holding out for the assurance of victory.
If the Governor could guarantee 23 votes, perhaps he could have gotten 23 votes.
As it happened, David Williams scheduled the vote on a day he knew there would not be enough votes. Williams assured there would be at best 22 votes given one Senator’s pre-established absence. The six swing-Senators then would be voting for a failing amendment and putting their own chances for re-election on the line for a failing vote.
Soon after the proposed constitutional amendment to allow gambling failed in the Senate by a 16-21 votes, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, who sponsored the casino bill, congratulated Senate President David Williams of Burkesville for “orchestrating” the measure’s defeat.
“I certainly thought that that was a cheap shot that was taken this morning in the newspapers about Senator Thayer,” Beshear, a Democrat, said during a news conference after an event in the Capitol Rotunda. “He’s a fellow of integrity, and he is doing what he thinks is right in sponsoring this amendment to let people vote on it.”He implied that Williams, R-Burkesville, was behind the story and said it is “certainly further evidence of intimidation by Senator Williams and others who are against this amendment. I think it’s very clear that that’s the case.”
Again, Thayer is not in favor of gambling but he is in favor of the horse industry. That’s a good place to be politically for someone with ambitions for even higher office.
In the Gubernatorial election of 2011, Beshear trounced Williams and the theory went the Governor was trying to run up the numbers (thus, his tax task force was not a policy platform but an afterthought) in order to not only defeat Williams at the polls but render him impotent and unelectable again as Senate President.
Williams, a Burkesville Republican who has headed the Senate since 2000, said after a retreat Thursday for Senate Republicans that there would be no leadership changes in the Senate.
He said no Republican leader faced a challenge.
There was speculation that there might be a challenge to Williams’ leadership, given Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s resounding victory over Williams in the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election.
Some thought Williams could be a liability for Republican candidates in the 2012 elections, when half of the Senate’s 38 seats will be up for grabs.
The Republican Party of Kentucky is powerful and forward looking. On the national level, they have foisted the nation’s most powerful Senator, Mitch McConnell, the nation’s leading Tea Party voice, Rand Paul, the holder of the nation’s pursestrings, Hal Rogers, and a trio of powerful Congressmen who control the national policy on environment unprotection and “job creation” — Whitfield, Gutrhie and Davis.
On the state level, however, the Kentucky Republican Party has over and over proven ineffective in taking over government. The Williams nomination was, in itself, a declration of failure. The Bully from Burkesville never had a chance and no one of right-thinking mind ever thought different. He was nominated because a) it was his time; and more important, b) no one else had statewide cred.
With his backhanded support of the Democratic Governor’s gambling bill, Thayer is attempting to take that mantel.
The Senate Republican caucus’ decision to keep Williams as President was not an endorsement of Dave’s job performance but a recognition of reality: Governor Beshear has four (right?) more years in office, he can’t run again which makes 2015 a clean slate struggle between the two parties. Better to have an established villain perform the task of obfuscater than run, again, someone so easily lampooned as the reason nothing gets done in Frankfort.
So David Williams carries on as bad guy and the Republicans around him jostle for position.
Who can it be now?
Damon Thayer opposed gambling in the past.
This year, in 2012, he did David Williams’ bidding on the failed redistricting bill.
Then he took a “brave” stance across party lines by sponsoring not the idea of casino gambling but the idea Kentucky voters should be able to vote it down themselves.
He worked alongside Williams on the unconstitutional disenfranchisement map. Why would you think he didn’t do the same on gambling?
He passed it out of committee on Wednesday. Williams took it to a vote on Thursday when everyone knew there weren’t enough votes.
Damon Thayer and Steve Beshear brought their long-awaited gambling bill to the Senate today. It would allow (to begin with) seven casinos — five at horse tracks, two not at horse tracks and not within 60 miles of a horse track.
The governor said additional tax revenue and licensing fees from casinos could buoy the state budget and help the Kentucky horse industry, which is threatened by competition from other states with casinos.
Thayer said co-sponsors from both parties have signed up for the bill, which he expects to be sent to the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which he chairs.
He said he expects it next to come up for a hearing and probably a vote on Feb. 22.
Joining Thayer and Beshear was Ag Commish Jamie Comer (AKA, that one Republican candidate who didn’t lose to a Democrat last November) who campaigned on and will testify in support of bringing casino gambling to Kentucky.
Thayer said he believes Kentuckians should have the right to decide the gambling issue this November in an election that will draw a large turnout because the presidential race also will be on the ballot.
“The time is right to put this issue on the ballot this November, and let the people vote,” he said.
“Are you in favor of authorizing the General Assembly to permit the establishment and operation of up to seven strictly regulated casinos, up to five of which would be at licensed horse racing tracks, with the Commonwealth’s revenue from them to be spent for job creation, education, human services, health care, veterans programs, local governments, public safety and support of the horse industry?”
Well. Are you, punk?
More interesting question (at least in the immediate) is the one we’re still waiting on an answer to: Will Andy Barr support casino gambling?
We asked him a while back and dude seems real shy. Does he side with his religious/conservative voters, or with the horse folk? Tough choice.
In other news, Nebraska is also talking about opening their land to casino gambling:
The amendment proposal would give the Legislature the authority to legalize casino gambling, which is currently banned in the state constitution. If approved, the measure would allow Nebraska to build casinos within 60 miles of a border state — unless the border state agreed to share some of the tax revenue.
The idea faces long odds, because Nebraskans have rejected several gambling proposals over the past decade.
Amendments to a bill in the New Hampshire House to legalize gambling include licensing four casinos with 14,000 slot machines and 420 table games, as well as lowering the business tax.
With Massachusetts approving licenses for three casinos in November, proponents say New Hampshire must act immediately to legalize gambling or else it could see a drain of tourism dollars and room and meal tax revenue towards its neighbor to the south. The amendment to authorize four casinos would make all the licenses available simultaneously.
And everyone else is moving past brick and mortar casinos and going “online“:
This explains why 2012 will be known as the year that at least one state – probably two or three – launch the first instance of legalized online gambling in the United States. In 2011, the District of Columbia approved it but had implementation issues. Nevada has also legalized and is taking applications from operators. New Jersey and Iowa were close to passing it. Now, at least 10 states are actively considering it. States are looking for the types of revenue that online gaming can bring – immediate, significant and well regulated.
Reports by Morgan Stanley suggest that 15 million, or more, Americans today will log onto their computer and illegally play poker online. This seems innocent enough until you realize that it is unregulated, untaxed and completely unlawful. With smart technologies and the leveraging of existing state regulatory and law-enforcement organizations, online gambling could be taxed and generating revenues in any number of states quickly and safely.
But that’s just crazy. The internet’s basically over.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the horse industry have formed a group, the Kentucky Alliance for Jobs, to raise money and advocate for casino gambling.
The coalition includes at least 31 organizations, including the chamber, the Kentucky Education Association, labor groups, and multiple horse industry groups. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also is a supporter.
While some of the member groups listed, such as the chamber, support expanded gambling, others only go so far as to support putting an amendment on the ballot.
Prichard Committee executive director Stu Silberman, also former superintendent of the Fayette County Public Schools, said that the Kentucky Education Action Team, composed of education groups from across the state, has not put the gambling question to a vote.
“At our last meeting, members voted to support putting the issue on the ballot,” Silberman said. “Whether they are for it or against it, they believe it’s important to get it settled.”
“My position on this issue is clear – I believe the people should decide once and for all whether Kentucky will expand gaming. I am not pushing for legislative fiat on this issue, but rather for the people to make the final decision. Politicians in Frankfort have been debating this issue for decades; now it is time for the politicians to get out of the way and let the people make the choice. It is time for Kentucky to make this decision and move on.”
Which is fair enough. Whether or not Thayer’s clients profit from the gambling bill, the entire state’s still gonna have to vote it in or out. Right?
A lot of the time, press releases aren’t worth reading. This is no such a time.
Aside from repeatedly misspelling the Governor’s name as “Bashear” this press release is full of good times:
Records of communications and meetings regarding money and plans with Saudi officials by Gov. Steve Bashear and his staff have been subpoenaed by the Federal Court. Gov. Bashear, now running for re-election, failed to comply with the initial Request for Open Documents on this information.
Saudi Arabia, in a public relations campaign while lobbying the US Congress for defense equipment, arranged and funded a $2.5 million 2010 Exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park with Bashear’s assistance. The Exhibit featured the Saudi’s history and that of the Arabian horse. The event additionally hosted an opening dinner funded by the Saudis at the Kentucky Horse Park for members of Congress and influential citizens.
Kentucky Horse Park officials have since admitted in depositions that the KHP Foundation kept hundreds of thousands of dollars purportedly sent for the Exhibit while failing to divulge there was unspent funds. While the Exhibit was in development, Gov. Bashear carried on subsequent meetings and conversations with the Saudis in pursuit of more funding for undisclosed purposes, hosting a private dinner at the Governor’s mansion for Saudi Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, former Deputy Director of Saudi Intelligence and son in law of King Abdullah. The Saudis are now lobbying Congress and the Administration for nuclear supplies. Members of the US Congress have voiced serious concerns about this request, noting concerns about the country’s instability and the Saudi’s oft stated goal of gaining parity with Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Okay… so we’ve got the Governor, a Saudi Prince, the Kentucky Horse Park and hundreds of thousands of dollars. How or why “Bashear” is helpful to Prince Faisal in his pursuit of nuclear supplies seems unclear and similarly it’s unclear who took the money, what happened to it, or if that has wider ramifications.
The release comes from Jo Franklin, the journalist and filmmaker behind the suit against the House of Saud and Gov. “Bashear.” The suit, and apparently these revelations about the Horse Park, is a result of a Saudi campaign to block her recent film, “A Gift From the Desert: The Arabian Show Horse.”
The film documented foreigners working on the King’s personal farm, not Saudis, and also featured Saudi women riding horses… which is of course a little frowned upon in that country. Franklin is a former producer for the NewsHour on PBS and has made a series of films over the past 30 years ruffling Saudi feathers. [See here and here for more on her preceding tussle with the Saudis, and here for her film's official website.]
In the Kentucky Horse Park’s original press release announcing the Saudi’s $2.5M gift, it appears the film was actually originally commissioned by the Saudis and apparently they didn’t like how it turned out.
LEXINGTON, KY (June 20, 2007) The International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park has announced that the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation has agreed to become the presenting sponsor of a major international exhibition and film entitled, A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse. The exhibition will be produced by and held in the museum during the summer and fall of 2010 in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. This will be the third major international exhibition developed by the museum this decade.
The $2.35 million donation represents the largest ever received by the museum for an exhibition.
Of course, it was Gov. Fletcher who sat in Frankfort at that time and who profusely thanked and praised the Saudis for their contribution, which suggests the “Bashear” subpoena may be more about information gathering than anything to do directly with the allegedly missing funds. It’s also unclear if the missing funds were really missing or if there’s anything wrong with anything that happened. Then again, that’s why people subpoena things from other people.
As for the Saudi’s nuclear ambitions, they’ve already got the bomb but are apparently looking to greatly enhance their civilian nuclear energy capacities in coming years (see here and here) and according to the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the Saudis and the Obama administration are planning private talks to discuss some nuclear cooperation.
While Ben Chandler does sit on that particular committee (you know, the one that banned US aid to starving children), it doesn’t seem any Kentucky legislator, “Bashear” included, has lobbied anyone on behalf of the Saudis, but again… who knows.
Is the subpoena a fishing expedition, or is something bigger afoot? We’re leaning toward the former and are breathlessly awaiting the Williams’ campaign-managerless campaign attack advertisement on this topic. Can you imagine? Maybe the 2010 World Equestrian Game really will make everything awesome.
On an unrelated note, kind of, all this talk of documentaries and Bashear reminds me that if you haven’t seen Waltz with Bashir yet, you really should. It’s great, though it is not in any way about our Governor (or horses).
Beshear, who is running for a second term this year, said he didn’t have enough time to alter his Kentucky Oaks schedule, which included hobnobbing with CEOs to promote Kentucky as a place to do business.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, saw it differently. He said the governor should have adjusted his Friday schedule to be at Fort Campbell, where Obama honored the U.S. commandos he sent after terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.
“That wasn’t a political event,” Stumbo said. “That was an event to honor the bravery of those men, and I believe he should have gone down there probably and been with the president. He could have helicoptered back up here for the Oaks presentation if he wanted to do that.”