Voters Are Sovereign except When They Aren’t

Strong words from Governor Phil Bryant in his state-of-the-state address back in January:

“To the taxpayers who hear this message, rest assured your Governor recognizes that you are sovereign. You, by the power of your vote, grant us the authority to govern. The Mississippi Constitution makes clear that, ‘All power is vested in and derived from the people.'”

Hmmm.

In this vein many legislators cite the 2001 public vote as good reason to retain Mississippi’s controversial state flag. “The people have spoken,” they say.

So, people are sovereign and speak through their votes.

Hmmm.

How, then, can legislators ignore the people’s vote in 1992 in favor of a state lottery?

Just one of several examples suggesting most legislators’ thinking on the lottery isn’t terribly rational.

There are those who sincerely contend that gambling is bad. Okay, then how does Mississippi justify having legalized casino gambling, bingo gambling, and, just recently, fantasy sports betting?

And, there’s that special committee Speaker of the House Philip Gunn appointed to get the facts about a lottery. Surely similarly sized Arkansas generating about $85 million in state revenue from its lottery would dominate discussion. However, the committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach, seems not too interested in Arkansas, but very interested in how much money Mississippi loses from residents traveling to neighboring states to purchase tickets. Bobby Harrison with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Bennett has the Legislature’s PEER Committee “trying to figure that out,” along with how much Mississippians may be spending on gasoline and other items while they buy the tickets.

Legislators’ thinking on the lottery is peculiar at best.

Maybe that’s because Mississippi casinos don’t want a lottery and they have great sway with legislators. Yes, the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, as Geoff Pender with the Clarion-Ledger wrote, is not, as yet, actively opposing a lottery as they have in the past. But, (it’s always the “but” that matters) MGHA wrote Gov. Phil Bryant a letter that said, “In addition to avoiding unintended and potentially harmful consequences, our members would like to ensure there is ample time to study the economic impact (of a lottery).”

Oh, they also want to make sure casinos can sell lottery tickets should one be approved.

The Governor had considered adding the lottery to last week’s special session, but after the MGHA letter and other push back, he decided not to.

In his January state-of-the-state address, the Governor suggested it might be time to institute a lottery. Referring to heavy traffic on the Mississippi River bridge, such as that headed to Delta, LA, he said, “We can no longer contain the people’s desire for a lottery; we can only force them to travel.” Then in February, as he made one of his many mid-year cuts to the state budget, he again spoke up in favor of a lottery as a way to boost revenue.

Interestingly, most Republican legislators don’t seem inclined to listen to their Governor, much less to sovereign voters.

There are exceptions, like Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon. Read his lottery guidance here: http://yallpolitics.com/index.php/yp/post/47002.

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