By Ray Paulick
I've known Damon Thayer going on 20 years, and I don't think he's a bad person. But I've seen how good people can be intoxicated with power, and am convinced that is what is going on with the former racing industry executive who is now a Kentucky state senator from Scott County representing the 17th district.
A few weeks ago I reported on an interview Thayer did on the Horse Racing Radio Network (click here for the article), in which he complained that no one from the Thoroughbred industry was contacting him about his proposed constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum and local option vote to permit slot machines in Kentucky counties where racetracks are located (not necessarily at tracks, but in counties where tracks are currently located).
Woe is him.
Perhaps the reason no one is interested in calling the senator from Scott is the fact his proposed amendment is outrageous because it would ultimately lead to out-of-state casino companies and developers putting Kentucky racetracks out of business. That's exactly what is happening in the state of Maryland, where slot machines were approved for a location not at Pimlico or Laurel but at a shopping mall owned and operated by the Cordish Company. Yes, that's the same Cordish Company that developed Fourth Street Live in Louisville.
If Thayer's folly is somehow approved as written (very much a longshot at best), Cordish will be salivating over the prospect of getting the slots license in Jefferson County, Kentucky, where Churchill Downs is located. Another well-funded casino company would surely end up with the license in Northern Kentucky. So we'd have Turfway Park certainly out of business as a racetrack, and Churchill Downs severely impaired financially.
But, Thayer says with almost ghoulish delight, we'll have all that slots money going into purses, based on how his amendment is written. Yes, Damon, just like in Maryland, where there will be money for purses, but no tracks able to stay open to run the races where the purses will be offered.
Sources tell the Paulick Report that employees of the Maryland Jockey Club are being told Laurel is going to be bought by a developer (Cordish?), and closed for live racing. Someone will operate Pimlico for 30 days during the Preakness meeting in the spring, at least as long as the walls of the rickety old racetrack grandstand don't collapse. And that, along with a short meeting at the state fair in Timonium will be it for live racing.
If true, it will be a devastating and final blow for the once-proud Maryland breeding industry, where the mighty Northern Dancer once stood as the world's most important stallion. Allowing Thayer's folly to proceed will cause similar destruction to Kentucky's signature industry.
So Thayer, in a snit because no one was calling him to discuss his ludicrous proposal, decided to drop another bomb when a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader called him to inquire about the horse industry's exemption on sales tax for certain horses sold at auction (the exemption, which does not apply to all horses sold, is not as comprehensive as that given to the horse industry in other states).
When asked whether the exemptions should be discontinued, Thayer said it is “certainly cause for serious debate.”
It was his way of flipping the almighty bird to a now struggling industry that is not only vital to the economic future of this state, but one that has provided him and his family a very good living for many years.
Speaking of the almighty, it's amazing to me that a Senate committee chaired by Thayer (the State and Local Government Committee) wasted taxpayers' time and money on Wednesday, approving along a straight party-line vote (Thayer's Republican colleagues won the day over Democrats 7-5) something called the 21st Century Bill of Rights. Among other things, this new and improved bill of rights (as if our Founding Fathers weren't very wise) would prohibit a ban on the Ten Commandments being posted in public buildings. If you get a chance, check out this troubling and funny video clip of a Georgia Congressman, Lynn Westmoreland, who sponsored a bill requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in public buildings. (Click here to view.) Seems the Congressman has a hard time knowing exactly what those Commandments are…which makes me wonder how Sen. Thayer and his colleagues would do on a pop quiz.
But I digress.
Thayer is essentially drunk with power, sitting on his senatorial throne while waiting for individuals in the horse industry to come to him, hat in hand, begging for some scraps. If he were a true leader, he would have been out amongst the people, meeting with horse farmers, trainers and racetrack owners who are suffering now, watching stallions, mares and racehorses being tugged away from Kentucky by states with more favorable economics and more enlightened legislators. It is the same kind of arrogance and insular thinking that we've witnessed most recently in the White House, where a president who was elected under the mantra of change failed to understand how deep the suffering and unhappiness is among the very people who voted for him, leading to an embarrassing defeat for the Democratic Party Tuesday in Massachusets, the most liberal state in the union.
I hold out little hope that my old friend, the senator from Scott, will understand how wrong he is and how much help the horse industry needs. There is little to do but find and support a strong candidate to displace him from his office in 2012.
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