Monday, June 14, 2010

Slots and Ali

By W. Minor Carter.

I served as the lobbyist for StopSlotsMD, the grassroots anti-slots coalition, from the time the slots debate started in earnest in 2003, through the time the legislature passed slots legislation in 2007, until the voters approved the slots referendum in 2008.

In the battle against slots, I developed a list of legislators who opposed bringing slots to Maryland. Delegate Saqib Ali was one of the “good guys” on that list. He ran for the House as a fervently anti-slots candidate. He vowed to oppose slots at all costs because they are immoral and they destroy families. On his campaign website, he wrote: “I pledge to be a guaranteed vote against slot machines.”

Imagine my surprise when he cast the deciding vote in favor of slot machine gambling in Maryland.

During the 2007 special session, the legislature passed two slots bills. The first bill (HB 4) proposed an amendment to the Maryland constitution to authorize slot machine gambling in the State. On the floor, Delegate Ali voted with pro-slots legislators on several amendments before voting against the bill.

The second bill (SB 3) authorized 15,000 slot machines at five sites, created licensing fees, and directed how slots revenue would be spent. Anti-slots lawmakers – including Montgomery County Delegates Charlie Barkley, Kathleen Dumais, Ben Kramer, Jane Lawton, Heather Mizeur, Luiz Simmons and Jeff Waldstreicher – stood with the anti-slots movement and voted against this bill.

Delegate Ali abandoned us and voted for it.

His vote was especially disappointing because the bill received just 71 votes – the bare minimum required for passage. If Delegate Ali had kept his “pledge” to be a “guaranteed vote against slot machines,” the bill would have failed. In other words, if Delegate Ali had kept his word, he could have prevented slots in Maryland. To this day, he has never explained to anti-slots activists why he abandoned his pledge to oppose slots.

Imagine my surprise – again – when I read that Delegate Ali is telling voters that he never voted in favor of slot machine gambling in Maryland.

Most citizens understand the competing pressures surrounding controversial legislation, and the difficulty of voting against bills supported by the Governor and the legislative leadership. However, once a legislator casts a vote, he should have the integrity to defend his position – and not attempt to obscure or misrepresent it.

Good legislators gain the respect of their constituents and their colleagues by defending the difficult decisions they make in Annapolis. Those like Delegate Ali – who vote one way and try to rewrite history on the campaign trail – lose respect. Unfortunately, at least on this issue, Delegate Ali is not being honest with his constituents.