August 28, 2018 10:24:05 AM
When the Mississippi House of Representatives voted against a state lottery Monday evening, it sent shockwaves throughout the Capitol and left everyone searching for the answer to a simple question: Why?
Why, indeed, did a lottery bill that passed the House by a comfortable 28-vote margin on Friday, go down in flames on Monday after it emerged from the conference committee that appeared to have resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill?
Gov. Phil Bryant, in his best imitation of Donald Trump, turned to Twitter to blame the Democrats:
"House Democrats voted to continue losing more than $80 million to Ark., Louisiana and Tenn., $10 million-to-$20-million of which could have gone to education...Hope they can explain that to their communities."
Speaking of explaining things, Bryant might take time to explain why Democrats were to blame when 34 of the 60 "no" votes were cast by Republicans in the 60-54 vote.
Despite Bryant's pathetic attempt to blame the rival party, it's obvious that there was bi-partisan opposition. Four of our areas five legislators voted "no" -- Democrats Kabir Karriem and Cheikh Taylor and Republicans Gary Chism and Jeff Smith. The only local legislator to vote for the lottery Monday was Rob Roberson, a Republican from Starkville.
Other theories included a moral/ethical objections from House members, although it's difficult to understand why the House had already passed a version of the lottery just three days earlier.
There was also some speculation that House members had second thoughts about a lottery corporation set up to run the lottery. Hob Bryan (D, Amory) called the corporation a "slush fund for Phil Bryant."
Finally, it may be that the House was sending a message to Bryant, House Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
The lottery bill was drafted mostly behind closed doors. In their hubris, Bryant, Reeves and Gunn thought they could just shove the bill down the throats of their compliant minions. Up until now, that was generally how things worked.
But this time Legislators on both sides of the aisle complained that there was little time to read and consider the bill before voting. That might explain why the House voted one way after just a few hours of time to read the bill, then voted another way after having had some time to consider it further.
Regardless of how you feel about a lottery, there is no question that this bit of back-room legislating is contrary to how our state government is supposed to work.
What is also important to note is that if the House does not bring up and pass the lottery bill, it may also doom the other major legislation before the Legislature in the special session. The lottery was supposed to be the major funding source for a bill that would fund repairs for roads/bridges infrastructure.
Without the lottery, the road/bridge bill currently being considered is dead, too.
Given the stakes, it's likely the Legislature will push forward on both fronts.
But no matter the outcome, we do hope Bryant, Gunn and Reeves get the message: Legislators have a role in these decisions. They are not merely rubber stamps applied to back-room deals. Representative government is still alive in our state.
That's one good thing that may come out of this special session.
Right now, it may be the only thing.