Expanding Gambling: A Failure of Political Leadership

The principles of the Republican Party platform provide direction on most if not all issues. Traditional values, personal responsibility, limited government, free market economics — all rightly defined — point the way.

On these pages we’ve been giving our views on what constitutes the role of the modern legislator for some time. The over-riding principle is simple: it’s all about public opinion and our elected leaders have the responsibility to move public opinion. It applies to both members of Congress and state legislators.

Nationally we know entitlements need to be reformed. We’ve known that for decades, and every year of delay makes the problem worse. We know tax reform — namely simplification — is needed. Yet after more than a decade of Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives we have, according to one analysis, a federal tax code that’s about 50 percent more complicated than it was in 1994. The list goes on and on.

This lack of leadership might give us Speaker Pelosi come November. We’ve already addressed the fact that gas prices being high and war being hell is a ridiculous excuse for losing public support. Some of us already knew that we can’t control the world oil market and that Islamic fascists are determined.

Evidently our Republican leaders were caught off guard by this and thus unprepared to handle the reaction of the public. Of course they left the public to be informed by the media. You know, the media that just spent two weeks spending an inordinate amount of time covering a mentally unstable individual claiming to have murdered Jon Benet Ramsey.

Ten years ago here in Illinois Republicans held the state house and senate and the governor’s mansion. The lack of effective leadership has delivered all three over to the Democrats and today there is little prospect of Republicans gaining control any time soon. Why?

A good case in point is what’s happening following Topinka’s announced plan to put a casino in Chicago and dramatically increase the number of gaming positions at the existing boats. We’ve yet to hear any serious reaction from other Republicans who have been out-spoken opponents of a casino in Chicago or expanded gambling across the state. Don’t any of them have anything to say?

Gambling and its effects are well known. University of Illinois Economics Professor Earl Grinols has done terrific research and written a book, Gambling in America, Costs and Benefits. In it, Grinols commented on politics:

In an ideal world, policy would be determined by commissions and members of government dispassionately evaluating the alternatives, debating their merits, selecting the best, and then implementing. My travels confirmed for me that we do not live in an ideal world: instead, advocacy rules. Promoters produce proposals that benefit themselves. They and their government allies (who are sometimes promised various inducements) urge their adoption…

He is absolutely correct. A couple paragraphs later he adds:

Legislative committees tend to be unsatisfactory vehicles to solve the obvious need for independent, utilizable research to compare benefits and costs.

Whose fault is that? Guess.

It’s 2006 and the time for excuses is past. We’ve got national and state based think tanks and men and women like Professor Grinols who are doing the hard work of research and analysis. The work still remaining undone is the effective advocacy of the right policies.

I’ve written before that too many legislators think their primary job is to find a compromise between good ideas and bad ideas. It’s not, and if someone needs to tell them I’ll volunteer. Compromise is what comes at the end of the process, after you’ve worked to win as much support as possible for your desired proposal in the time allotted. Our side acts as if they don’t believe Republican principles can be sold, and start by raising the white flag.

In a real two-party state Topinka’s casino plan would at least be debated within the Republican Party. Instead, there’s silence.

There’s one more essay in this series — and as all the rest — the content is so simple you would think it wouldn’t have be written. But with the state of Republican leadership in Illinois and across the country, the ABCs of modern political leadership, as simple as they might be, have to be outlined. What’s lacking isn’t an understanding of what has to be done — but the courage and willingness to just do it.