Page 20


An Update: The Politics of Pari-Mutuel Austin With the pari-mutuel horseracing bill \(see TO, House committee, . supporters once again this session seemed doomed to beating a dead horse, until state Sen. Bob McFarland offered an amendment to the bill calling for a statewide referendum. The referendum, scheduled for November 1984 would be held before any Texas race tracks could be licensed. The bill’s passage out of the State Committee on Economic Development was designed to get the bill moving in at least one chamber, since it appeared stalled in the House. Sen. 0. H. “Ike” Harris, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, said he was willing to accept the referendum amendment only because he knew the legislation was doomed otherwise. Eight members of the 15-member House Urban Affairs Committee wrote letters vowing to block the bill at the committee level. McFarland, an Arlington Republican, told fellow committee members he still had personal reservations about the bill, but that he thought the topic was important enough “to allow the people to decide the issue.” Before his amendment, voter approval of horse racing would have been required only in counties where race tracks would be operated. The vote in committee was 6-2, with Sen. Ed Howard of Texarkana and Republican Senator John Leedom of Dallas casting the no votes. “This piece of legislation has been around a good while,” Howard said, “and I’m still concerned about whether Texas needs this within its borders. My concern is not with the regulation of the horses, but the regulation of the people who come the crowd, the mob, the gang, whatever we want to call it.” Ike Harris tried to assure Howard the bill carried “as much regulation as we can possibly get. . . . I’m satisfied it’s as good as we can possibly do.” Sen. Leedom was concerned that lawmakers were shirking their responsibility by setting up a referendum. He also wondered if there was a constitutional question involved since the bill might be construed as a revenueproducing measure, which would have to originate in the House. McFarland assured him the bill’s purpose was to establish a horseracing commission, not to raise revenue. “I do not feel it’s my responsibility to come down here and protect the people from themselves,” McFarland told fellow committee members. “The people can decide for themselves whether they want it.” As amended, the bill would establish a Texas Horseracing Commission and allow the governor to appoint its members before the November 1984 referendum date. If voters turn down the pari-mutuel proposal, the authority of the committee to issue licenses or further expend state funds would be denied, but the commission would not go out of existence. “We were trying to skirt as circuituously as we could initiative and referendum,” McFarland told the Observer. “There’s a lot of intramural politicking going on.” Bob Armstrong The dilemma lawmakers are facing was expressed by state Sen. Bob Glasgow, a Stephenville Democrat. “I have very great reservations about the bill,” he said, “but the problem is, my district is split almost fifty-fifty on it. I want my district to have a vote in a state referendum on it to give me some enlightenment.” In the House, Hugo Berlanga, cosponsor of HB440, said he considered the Senate panel’s action a “tremendous boost to the effort.” “There’s a lot of intramural politicking going on,” former Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong says. Armstrong, who is lobbying for the bill, says House members resented taking the lead on the bill last session only to have it shot down by the Senate. This time they intend to let the Senate take the heat. The eight members of the Urban Affairs Committee who signed the letter expressing their opposition to the bill say they are taking a different kind of heat. “They [horseracing advocates] have taken my contributors’ list and started calling it to get my contributors to call me,” Rep. Mike Toomey, a Houston Republican, told Patti Kilday of the Dallas Times Herald. “I have gotten a lot of letters asking why I haven’t resigned the committee if I am not going to vote the way of the statewide referendum,” he said, referring to a preference poll held in conjunction with the May Republican primary. Reps. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, and Frank Eikenburg, R-Plano, said they had received similar calls. Wolens called the lobbying effort “oppressive,” but he said he did not believe that the professional lobbyists for the Texas Horse Racing Association were responsible for the calls. He blamed individual horse breeders instead. Wolens refused to comment on a report that Berlanga had threatened to change Wolens’ district in the House redistricting committee. Berlanga, a member of the committee, did advocate adopting a redistricting plan that would pair Wolens with Rep. Jesse Oliver, DDallas, but Berlanga said he advocated the plan only as a way to enhance Hispanic voting strength in Dallas. He said it was only “circumstantial” that it would have hurt Wolens. The eight members opposing the bill Toomey; Wolens; Eikenburg; Randy Pennington, R-Houston; David Cain, D-Dallas; Jan McKenna, R-Fort Worth said they do not plan to change their position on the issue. Horseracing lobbyists, nevertheless, continued to express confidence. “We’re tickled to death with it [the McFarland amendment],” Don Essary, the horseracing association’s chief lobbyist told the Observer. “We feel like it’ll pass.” Essary predicted a 23 to 8 Senate vote in favor of the bill. Anti-gambling lobbyist Allan Maley says it won’t happen. “I think they’re trying to use semantics to try to convey the idea that this is not initiative and referendum.” he told the Observer. “I think Sen. Leedom touched a nerve with Sen. McFarland when he suggested that the Senate was trying to shirk its responsibility. By trying to avoid the I and R, they’ll run smack dab in the face of the Constitution where it says that only the legislature can repeal a piece of legislation. . . . The bottom line is when a constitutional point of order is raised I THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3