By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
June 12, 2014
A floor above the razzle and dazzle of gaming at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the state Republican Party voted last weekend to soften its stance on gambling. While the change involved just a handful of words in the NCGOP Platform’s article on State Government, supporters and opponents alike believe the shift is significant.
“Unfortunately, the culture of gambling is incrementally progressing in the Tar Heel state,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “With the House looking to the lottery to fund teacher pay, an ongoing push for a casino in Cleveland County, and an SBI probe into political contributions from the video sweepstakes industry, gambling has certainly been the theme of the week.”
Last year’s NCGOP platform stated, very simply, that “Government should not discourage honest, productive work. We oppose gambling, including the state lottery.” The newly amended version, approved by an estimated 70 percent of delegates as the Convention drew to a close on June 7, reads:
“Government should not discourage honest, productive work. While we oppose gambling, we affirm the rights of the individual.”
Although the change occurred on the Convention floor, the push began earlier in the Platform Committee.
“There were several versions of the gambling language that were considered beforehand,” said Julie Emmons, a four-year veteran of the committee. Facing language that opposed only state facilitated gambling, she successfully floated an amendment in committee to take the wording back to the 2013 version, but admitted that the vote on the Convention floor for the softened stance was “fairly overwhelming.”
“I would attribute it to two things: one, some of the individuals who feel most strongly opposed to gambling didn’t come to the Convention because of the location,” Emmons said, noting not only that the casino atmosphere may have deterred some delegates but also that Cherokee is in a remote area of the state.
“Also, it may have slipped up on some folks because it wasn’t really on their radar. I think it’s an issue that may have been lower in people’s consciousness.”
She said the change should be a wake-up call to members of the GOP that they not only need to come to the Convention, but to stay all the way until the end, as the vote occurred Saturday evening after more than a few delegates had left.
However, Aaron Littlefield, the Jackson County delegate who wrote the amendment, said there was a crowd of around 600 present for the vote, which was not nearly as close as he anticipated.
“Considering how far in the affirmative the vote was, I think this is really reflective of a change in the party,” said Littlefield, who ran unsuccessfully in this spring’s primary for N.C. House District 119.
Touting the lottery’s contribution to higher education funding, which he said had made college affordable to him and many others, and jobs created by Harrah’s in his home county, Littlefield called the amendment a step toward “recognizing individual liberty.”
“The Convention spoke. Republicans on the ground want less social engineering from the Party and from our politicians,” Littlefield proclaimed in a Facebook post.
He said in a later interview with the CAL that given more of an opportunity to craft a written amendment, he would have pushed for the platform to soften its stance even further to say that the NCGOP did not believe in legislating against gambling. Because of time constraints as the Convention neared its close, he instead put forth the change that omitted any reference to the lottery and instead promoted “the rights of the individual.”
“Our ideology of small government is in conflict with many parts of the platform. Gambling was just the place I chose to bring to the forefront,” Littlefield said, adding that many in the NCGOP would like to see the Platform move away from mentioning particular legislative issues.
“We’ve tried to focus more on ideals and values and not get into a lot of specifics, but in this case the Platform did mention specifically the lottery,” he said, explaining further his reasoning in pushing for the amendment.
Littlefield and Emmons agree on one thing — the change may not last.
Credible sources in the NCGOP have told the Christian Action League that they want to see an effort next year to reassert the NCGOP’s belief in the value of hard work as opposed to gambling and the lottery.
As for his part, Littlefield is pushing for a change in how the NCGOP comes up with its statement of beliefs. Rather than have a Platform Committee, he’d like to see the party start each convention with the current document and allow amendments only from the floor.
“While some believe this shift in the NCGOP shows that gambling laws should have been more liberal all along and that morality can’t be legislated, what it truly illustrates is that laws do affect beliefs and behavior,” said Dr. Creech. “Before the lottery was passed, most folks in the NCGOP vehemently opposed gambling. But now that the state is involved and, in fact, invested in this immoral practice, over the years it has become more and more acceptable. Admittedly, laws cannot change a person’s heart, but they can encourage people to maintain a moral stance.”