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The "Reeducation Lottery" - not worth "selling out" for

By D. G. Martin
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2005

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North Carolina legislators are poised to sell out.

It is really not such big news when politicians sell out by giving up an important principle or position in return for something else that seems more important.

After all, if you don't get elected, you can't do anything.

Selling out is part of the marketplace of representative government where, in order to achieve some important goals, a politician has to compromise on other, perhaps less important, ones.

It happens sometimes as early as a politician's first campaign for public office. The new candidate learns that his or her position on some important issue could result in the loss of critical votes or campaign contributions. So the candidate decides to minimize or conceal this position-or even change it.

After all, if you don't get elected, you can't do anything.

These "sell outs" also come after successful elections when legislators are trying to build the connections with their colleagues. These connections will be platforms to build the kind of coalitions that are necessary to "get good things done." In trying to build connections by helping their colleagues, legislators find themselves under pressure all the time to change their positions on issues that are important to them.

I have seen these "sell outs" happen so often, both during and after elections, that I might be more tolerant of them than you or most other people.

What is even sadder to me than watching a politician "sell out" is seeing one do it and get too little in return. It is the saddest when there is nothing in return. Then, all that is left is a politician stripped of a principle with nothing to show for it.

Take, for instance, a candidate who pledges not to campaign negatively against the opponent. But, towards the end of the campaign, the advisors and consultants say, "You can't win unless you go negative in a big way." So the candidate gives in and mounts a vicious campaign against the opponent. But the opponent wins anyway. Our candidate is a two-time loser-of an election and of the principle and of the trust that supporters had given.

Other times, legislators have traded a principle in exchange for a building or a program that was important to voters back home. Sometimes, it turns out, the voters forget about what the legislator got for them, remember the abandonment of principle, and vote for the opposition in the next election.

The issue of a state sponsored lottery is the possible "sell out" that has my attention now. Instead of "Education Lottery" we should call it the "Reeducation Lottery." It still turns my stomach over to think that the State of North Carolina might start "re-educating" its citizens to persuade them to gamble--an activity that it has previously "educated" them to avoid. What has been so bad that it had to be criminalized is now so good, the state will reeducate us to believe, because of all the good things the proceeds of the lottery will make possible. We will hear about more educational opportunities for pre-schoolers, smaller class sizes, teacher's salary increases, construction money for school buildings, water and sewer lines, college scholarships, and lots of money to share with local governments.

There is a problem (as Speaker Black's special committee is learning as it tries to draft a lottery bill). The proceeds of a state lottery won't pay for all the good things that its supporters have talked about. The funds it might generate would simply be poured into a big state government budgetary hole.

So, those legislators who consider "selling out" for a state lottery ought to realize that they are going to have nothing tangible to show for it. They will have sold out for nothing.

So, my advice to them is: If you are going to sell out, sell out big time. Don't just establish a mini-version of the dull state lotteries of the states that surround us. All of them have already found that the lottery becomes old hat. It takes more and more expensive advertising and slicker and slicker games to entice people to keep on playing. So why not insist that North Carolina start with something that will be a real big moneymaker--something that will set us apart from the others.

For example, why doesn't North Carolina capitalize on the eagerness of its people to bet on the NCAA basketball tournament by setting up a state sports gambling monopoly? Think of all the options we could have had during the last few weeks. The state could have sold NCAA tournament bracket selections, with millions in prizes to those who picked all the winners.

We would have people from all over the country, not just South Carolina and Virginia, coming here to place their bets, and leaving their money to help with our schools.

Just to be sure you understand, I still think state run gambling is a terrible idea. I don't think North Carolina ought to establish a lottery under any circumstances.

But, if our legislators are really going to sell out an important principle, they ought to insist that they get something really important in return.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which returns to the air on Sunday, April 3, at 5:00 p.m. with guest Orrin Pilkey, author of "How to Read a North Carolina Beach."

April 10: Orrin Pilkey, How to Read a North Carolina Beach

April 17: Orin Starn, Ishi's Brain

April 24: Karen Barker, Sweet Stuff

May 1: Dr. Gerald Bell, The Carolina Way

May 8: BJ Mountford, Bloodlines of Shackleford Banks

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The "Reeducation Lottery" - not worth "selling out" for

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