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Broad Alliance Forms to Oppose NC Lottery

BY Mark Johnson
by Mark Johnson on 3/10/01.

On Tuesday, former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, will join forces with former Democratic state Treasurer Harlan Boyles. Corporate titan Chairman Alan Dickson will team with Bill Friday, an icon in philanthropy and academia and the first president of the modern N.C. university system. Liberal former newspaper publisher Frank Daniels Jr. will sign on with conservative former legislator Chuck Neely.

That roster is part of a well-heeled, influential and politically and professional disparate coalition taking aim at a proposed state lottery, Gov. Mike Easley's first major policy initiative.

"If you've ever got a strange bedfellows (story), this is it," said Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University public policy and law professor and author of "Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America."

The coalition is expected to announce its formation in Raleigh on Tuesday. The group, which includes Charlotte lawyer and philanthropist Russell Robinson II, plan a full-fledged political campaign complete with hired strategists and possibly a barrage of television advertising, according to Neely, who is organizing the effort.

Dickson, whose Ruddick Corp. is the parent company of Harris Teeter grocery stores, described the group as "people who just understand the fundamentals of the issue." He said a lottery takes advantage of the "ill-informed" and escorts a "corrupting industry" into the state.

C.D. "Dick" Spangler Jr., a billionaire Charlotte businessman who succeeded Friday as University of North Carolina system president, also has joined the coalition, saying state-sponsored gambling sends the wrong message of "what our values are and what we are teaching our children and grandchildren our values should be."

Organized opposition to a lottery has emerged twice in the South in recent years, but not with the breadth of the N.C. effort. In South Carolina last year and in Alabama in 1999, the anti-lottery campaigns were narrower, dominated by churches and conservative religious groups. S.C. voters approved a lottery, while Alabamans rejected it.

Alabama's anti-lottery campaign "was a grassroots effort really without any funding" and still won, said the state's Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, who helped lead the campaign. "So if (North Carolina) starts out with a bipartisan business and religious coalition, I think (lottery proponents) are going to have a very difficult time passing the lottery."

Conservative religious groups also are on board in North Carolina. At least two Methodist Church organizations announced their opposition this month. The Rev. Walter Leake, a New Bern minister and state chairman of the Christian Coalition, said his group's board will meet Friday and discuss the extent of their involvement.

"A lot of the energy in this campaign will come from the churches," said Neely. But "this is a broader campaign than one that will be fought on religious grounds."

Friday, who hails from academia instead of churches, still talks about the lottery as "morally the wrong thing to do."

"We've got a million people who live below the poverty line," Friday said. "There are 400,000 children caught up in this. I don't want my state saying, 'We 're going to give you a quality education but the only way to do that is to start gambling.' "

Chris Fitzsimon, of the liberal Common Sense Foundation, said people such as Friday are warning about the morality of the policy of a lottery.

"It's raising money by preying on poor folks," said Fitzsimon, whose organization opposes the lottery.

Fitzsimon's group will be teammates with the conservative Citizens for a
Sound Economy.

"It's a bad idea economically," said Jonathan Hill, CSE's state director who served as top aide to former Republican U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth. "Other groups ' input will be on the moral issue or the social issue of it. That's what brings us all together. We all have a part to play."

The pro-lottery forces also begin in a formidable position, with enough likely votes in the state Senate to approve a public referendum on the lottery. The House's support is less certain. Most importantly, though, Easley is leading the lottery charge to pay for more teachers to reduce school class size and establish a state pre-kindergarten program.

Easley acknowledged this week, however, that the lottery's pocketbook impact is not a balanced one.

"Yes, it probably does affect the lower income (people) disproportionately," Easley said.

"Having said that, they're going to spend the money anyway on video poker or in (lotteries in) Georgia, South Carolina or Tennessee."

During his state of the state speech last month, Easley said opponents must face the combined reality of a budget crisis and mounting school enrollment.

"You can't just say, 'No, we're against a lottery,' " he said. "Finish the sentence. Tell me what you're for, because next year 100,000 5-year-olds will show up at the schoolhouse door and they deserve more than an overcrowded classroom and an underpaid and overworked teacher."

The anti-lottery coalition, though, includes several longtime Democratic fund-raisers and supporters, such as Daniels. His family previously owned The
(Raleigh) News & Observer.

"I'm embarrassed the Democrats are pushing this instead of a tax to pay for education or reducing the spending of government," said Daniels, so loyal to his party that he never voted for Neely "because he's a Republican."

Pro-lottery forces have taken steps to create a political organization as well. Two House members already have introduced lottery bills. It seems that the campaign over the lottery will begin before the General Assembly decides whether the public can vote on it.