The “Owatonna People’s Press has reported that Republicans in Steele County have overwhelmingly voted to oppose the proposed racino, rejecting a plea for support from the area’s former state senator and Racino Now spokesperson Dick Day. Here’s the full text of the February 27 story:
In spite of former Sen. Dick Day’s efforts, local delegates from his own party unanimously rejected a resolution supporting racino — an initiative to bring slot machines and video gaming to Minnesota’s horse racing tracks.
In December 2009, Day resigned from the state senate in the middle of his sixth term to pursue a career with for Racino Now, a lobbyist group backed by Canterbury Park, the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association and other groups connected to the horse track industry.
Day has often said that 70 percent of Minnesotans are in favor of racino, which supporters say would generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state at a time when the legislature cased a billion dollar deficit.
However, a resolution expressly supporting racino did not get a single supporting vote at the Steele County Republican Party’s County Convention on Saturday. The delegates also shot down a resolution to strike out a portion of the party’s platform that calls for the elimination of state sponsored gambling in Minnesota. Day was not present at the time.
The vote points to a rift in the local Republican Party which first surfaced on the campaign for a nominee to unseat DFL Rep. Kory Kath in District 26A. So far, two Republicans have declared their intention to run — Ted Boosalis, who is firmly against racino, and Brandon Pofahl, a candidate backed by Day. According to Boosalis, the racino rumble turned ugly Saturday at the Republican County Convention in Waseca.
“I have been against racino since day one and I will not waver my position based on polling. I need to tell you this, as soon as I gave my speech in Waseca I walked out to check a voice message and guess what happened?” Boosalis told delegates at the Steele County Convention. “A racino supporter literally accosted me out in the hallway. Here we have someone writing legislation for racino accosting me and yelling me out in the hallway. I will get shouted down, that’s just fine, but I’ll still vote no.”
Boosalis’ confrontation was just the latest development in what has become a flashpoint for local conservatives. Debate over the topic also flared up twice at political events in the last week, once at a Conservative Coffee Talk on Feb. 20 and again at a townhall meeting with newly-elected Republican Sen. Mike Parry, who won Day’s old seat in a special election on Jan. 26.
At the coffee talk, Day got into a heated exchange with Boosalis and other fellow conservatives, who objected to the racino proposal on moral grounds. Local Republican delegate Bob Nesbit further pointed out the effort to push through racino is diametrically opposed to the state Republican Party’s platform — Section 4J — which states “We should eliminate all state-sponsored gambling and oppose any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.”
“I don’t even look at the platform,” Day replied.
Nesbit brought racino up again on Thursday, asking Parry where he stood on the issue. Parry voiced support for the push to expand gambling.
“I’m telling you right up front I believe we can use racino. I know I’ve had a couple people come to me and quote verses out of the Bible because they know I’m a Christian guy. The state has already allowed tribal gambling, the state has already allowed the lottery — this is something that we put forth and the citizens, if they want to gamble, they will gamble,” Parry said. “Let’s do something that’s voluntary, that’s a revenue source that’s not taxation, but let us control where that money goes. I would fully support it if we could take some of that money and put it towards education, because education needs it.”
Again, Nesbit told Parry that racino proposal goes against the state GOP’s own proposed policy.
“Granted, money is nice, but is it moral?” Nesbit said, who added what Day had said about the party platform. “That’s the problem — we spend hours and hours and hours making up all these resolutions (to alter the party’s platform), thinking we’ve got input into this whole situation then what do you guys do? You just go by the way you feel or by the way the pressure is coming.”
Parry argued that most of his constituents support racino — only two people urged him to take a stance against it while he was campaigning, he said. Because of this, Parry said the will of the public takes precedence over his own personal views regarding gambling. “It’s a tough call, but am I here to represent the citizens,” Parry said.
“I don’t want you to vote for it. The reason why is every time we think we find a pot of gold and we designate the funds to go some place, eventually the legislature starts dibbling into it and moving the money to someplace else. I feel that we need to get the budget balanced, get the cuts done, and then we’ll think about racino,” said an audience member who refused to give her name, but is also a delegate for the Steele County Republican Party. “You guys will sit up there and do the same darn thing, you’ll keep filtering off that money and putting it everywhere else but where it was meant to go.”
This week two DFL members — Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar and Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin — put forward a racino bill. Parry said he thought the proposal would fail if racino money was not directed to a specific purpose.
“I don’t think racino will pass if it isn’t designated. I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to see it go into the general fund,” Parry said. “And where ever it ends up going, it needs to go to a core need in our state, and I don’t think a football stadium is a core need of our state.”
Members of the local Republican Party gathered at the county convention felt differently. “I do not support state-sponsored gambling,” said delegate Nathan Dotson. “I don’t think the state has any business in gambling. If you want to open a private casino, I don’t care, but I don’t think the state should have any part of it.”
The GOP’s endorsing convention for House District 26A and Senate District 26 will be next Saturday, March 6.