I specifically oppose the bill and more generally the entire concept of state endorsed gambling as a means of revenue generation. I understand that as we enter the final week of the session, the work-load will become very intense, the hours late, and the opportunities to speak may be limited. Therefore, I wish to begin my remarks by expressing my genuine respect and admiration for each of you. I sincerely believe that the work we do and the conflicts we face (together) allow us to forge friendships that transcend issues and that will last a lifetime. I appreciate the manner in which this body has made myself and the other 20 freshman Delegates feel at home.
Fellow Delegates, you may be leaning toward a position on the issue that is before us. I ask only for the courtesy of your attention, the capacity of your understanding, and the talent of your open mind. This issue is very important to me and I feel strongly about it.
Mr. Speaker, I am only a freshman Delegate. I am not well versed in the procedures, decorum and inner workings of this august body. But, I must confess that I am entirely disappointed by the fact that virtually this entire session has been devoted to / or overridden by the concepts and methods of legalizing a currently illegal activity: "Gray Machine Gambling". WV has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation. We are the slowest growing state with the oldest population. WV has a greater percentage of people on welfare than any state. We rank among the leaders in cancer rates, heart disease, and obesity. We have the highest illiteracy rate, lowest computer literacy rate, and our school system provides practically the lowest number of instructional days per year of any state. Yet, we are reduced to debating gray machines. The sleazy method of fleecing the limited assets from the most vulnerable segment of an already vulnerable state.
How much longer will this body turn a blind eye to the corruptive influence and economic degradation of gambling? The state of WV is hurting (in the most deceitful, despicable way) the very citizens that most need our help. Nine-thousand gray machines (neighborhood gambling devices) represent 9000 hurdles of temptation to the poor. Nine thousand government sanctioned locations for low to moderate income parents to "risk" the limited funds available for the children's food, clothing, and shelter.
Fellow Delegates, and most particularly, fellow freshmen Delegates. We have an opportunity before us, on this very day, to send a clear and unmistakable message throughout this great land that WV will no longer consider any scheme to exploit her people. WV will vigorously protect and defend our underprivileged -- for what greater calling have we? We will dedicate and fully commit ourselves to developing noble, honorable, and industrious plans for lifting this ship of state from it's mire of despair.
Dear colleagues, like you, I sought this office because I have a belief that WV can be so much more than we are. Like you, I dream of a WV full of exciting opportunities for our children and all citizens to grow, prosper, and realize their individual goals in the safe confines of mother WV. We stand at the dawn of a new century. The information age is upon us. The traditional shackles of remote geography and mountainous terrain have been broken by the Internet and Telecommunications. Opportunity abounds -- yet, we debate "Gray Machines"
Fellow Freshmen, some may call us wide-eyed idealist. For that, we should make no apologies. We did not learn, in our orientation session, to speak "for" or "against" an issues (for public consumption) and then vote the opposite way? We were not taught to promote the virtue of "public referendum" for one issue and then reject the value of this same virtue on the very next day? Anywhere, were we taught that the decisive consideration is not whether a proposition is good -- but -- if the governor or legislative leaders tell us to vote a particular way?
Ladies and Gentlemen, this bill does not foster the kind of society which we wish to bestow upon our fellow citizens and future generations. Rather, this is a prescription for exploiting the poor and discouraging decent, honest work. It is sad to think that individuals or organizations could be lead to support a proposition that is inherently detrimental to the well-being of the entire state simply because they may personally benefit from the proposal.
Mr. Speaker, I have come to understand that for a "yes" vote on this deplorable bill, a Delegate might just receive some special appropriation for their district -- or -- some help in raising funds for future campaigns -- or the all important governors appreciation.
Maybe that is how the system works. But, I hope this is a new day. Like so many of you, I did not seek this office for the purpose of getting re-elected or making no waves. I will not be influenced by the trappings of a good parking space or a nice office. Rather, I want to help each of you move WV forward -- regardless of the personal cost or re-election implications. Our parties will differ as to how the interests of the state are best served. But, our first responsibility is not to our party -- or even our constituents, but, to our individual consciences.
In his book, Profiles in Courage, JFK recounts the stories of ten US Senators that, at great personal sacrifice, took un-popular positions and cast votes that resulted in the loss of power, prestige, and even office. Great people like Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams and Sam Houston took a stand for principal -- not popularity or the approval of a chief executive.
The forward to this book describes an exchange between the political boss who controlled New York, Senator Conkling and William Wheeler (who would later become vice president under President Hayes). Said Senator Conkling "Wheeler, if you will be with us on this measure, there is nothing in the gift of the state of New York to which you may not reasonably aspire"... to which Wheeler replied "Sir, there is nothing in the gift of the state of New York which will compensate me for the forfeiture of my self-respect".... I commend this book to your reading. Will we cast a courageous vote today?
Mr. Speaker; Between this bill and my convictions, there is a gulf which cannot be bridged. This government and each of us individually have endeavored to impress upon the youth of our state the belief that truth is better than falsehood, honesty better than policy, courage better than cowardice, and disciplined work better than chance winnings. Today, these lessons confront us. This very day, with this very vote, we must be true or false, honest or cunning, faithful or unfaithful to our citizens. No amount of intellectual rationalization will be able to separate a "yes" vote on this bill from the reality of hungry children and broken families.
Even if you have previously voted for this bill in committee, even if you voted yesterday against any measure designed to limit this bill, even if you have pledged your support of this despicable measure to the Governor, it's not too late to do the right thing. You have one last chance to tell this Governor to fund his pay raises and scholarships through honorable means and more efficient government. I cannot fathom the organization or individual that contemplates profit from this ill-gotten gambling loot. Your constituents do not want this measure. I've talked with enough of you to know that the majority of members do not want this bill. The only person that really supports this proposition is Bob Wise. I submit that is not a sufficient reason to inflict damage on the citizens of WV.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you to reject this bill and to let the word go forth from this 75th Legislature that WV will educate our students, grow our economy, protect our underprivileged, and prosper our state through honest, noble method.