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Editorial March 24

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Lack of leadership There’s an old saying that a politician must sometimes rise above his principles. Governor Huckabee has soared well above his in regard to the casino gambling bill approved by the legislature. The governor was praised for his flexibility by Sen. Robert Johnson, the sponsor of SB 999. If one didn’t know that Senator Johnson is a dangerously serious fellow, one might have thought he was joking when he said of Huckabee “I, for one, am very much appreciative of what he did … to allow this to become law in the face of his own personal convictions.” Personal convictions, sometimes known as “family values,” are OK to have as long as they don’t get in the way of big money. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher by training, is declining to veto a casino gambling bill for Hot Springs. There was a time, years ago, when nothing united fractious Baptists — and other church groups, for that matter — like their opposition to gambling at Hot Springs. They defeated the gamblers in statewide referenda. They forced the legislature to recall from the governor’s office a bill that the lawmakers had already passed to legalize casinos. But the church groups were oddly lethargic as SB 999 sped through the legislature this year. Maybe they spent so much energy scourging gays in the last election, they had none left to resist gambling. Huckabee has publicly named most of the reasons why he should veto SB 999. The state’s two racetracks wrote the bill that gives them a franchise worth millions of dollars. If there’s going to be such a franchise, Arkansas should sell it to the highest bidder, as other states have done. The Senate approved this giveaway without even debating it. Taxes on gambling are not a good way to pay for state services, as they shift more of the load from the rich to the poor, who spend a higher percentage of their income on gambling than do the wealthy. Expanded gambling brings increased social costs. As the old-time Baptists used to say, it ruins lives. Having said all or most of that, Huckabee still let SB 999 go unvetoed, largely because, he said, it would have been passed over the veto anyway. It probably would have, although if Huckabee had really worked at upholding the veto, the bill would have passed with fewer votes than it got the first time. Some legislators would have been moved by the governor’s example. Whatever the outcome, Huckabee should have vetoed the bill and fought to uphold the veto. The people do not elect leaders to lead just when it’s easy. It’s a for-better-and-for-worse kind of thing, sort of like covenant marriage. Much is expected.

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