Imagine this: A developer suddenly shows up in your rundown little town and announces plans for a multi-million-dollar project. It would create lots of good jobs. It would be environmentally sensitive and culturally enhancing. It would generate a huge amount of new property taxes. It would transform the local economy from a rusting remnant of the post-industrial meltdown to a gleaming, recession-proof engine of new-millennial prosperity.
In meaningless catchphrases alone, it would produce more financial benefits than the combined total of all the traditional methods by which the locals normally earn a living (with the possible exceptions of pot farming and poaching).
And here’s the most amazing part: In return for this magnificent gift, the benevolent developer wants nothing.
Well, almost nothing.
OK, one trivial favor. Something insignificant. A mere token, meant only to symbolize the mutual respect between altruistic international commerce and accommodating municipal government.
The developer, who lives in another state and has visited your grubby backwater exactly once, wants to be appointed a voting member of your town council. And your school committee. And the planning board. And the zoning board of appeals. And on days when your state legislator can’t make it to Augusta, the developer will fill in.
Other than this total power-grab, that’s all you’ll have to pay.
As the more astute among you have, no doubt, surmised, this scenario is based on an actual event, although a few facts have been slightly altered to protect those involved from accusations that they’re power-hungry greedheads intent on despoiling all in their path for no reason other than that they have the resources to do so.
I’m referring, of course, to the proposal to build a casino in Oxford County (motto: Not As Economically Depressed As Franklin County. Or What’s The Other One That’s So Bad Off? Washington County, Maybe). In return for building a $112 million facility (described by its architect as “charming” and described by me as “a paper mill that somebody tried to dress up for polite company, with just a touch of the old state prison in Thomaston thrown in there”), Olympia Gaming of Nevada is only asking to become a voting member of:
the University of Maine System board of trustees,
the Maine Community College System board of trustees,
the Finance Authority of Maine,
the Land For Maine’s Future board of directors,
the Dirigo Health board of directors,
and, possibly, others. The legalese behind the referendum question on the November ballot that would authorize the casino allows Olympia to spread its out-of-state tentacles across Maine government. The proposed law says the president of the company that owns the gambling emporium must be “appointed a voting member on the governing body or board, if any, of each recipient or program funded in this subsection regarding the allocation of specific funding that is paid by the gaming operator.”
Since money is supposed to go to cleaning up the state’s rivers, does that entitle Olympia honcho Dean Harrold to a seat on the Board of Environmental Protection? Does the cash to develop an east-west highway open the way for Harrold to oversee the entire Department of Transportation, or would he settle for a spot on the Maine Turnpike Authority? Does improving public access to land and water translate into an appointment to the Land Use Regulation Commission? And is the price of improving community television going to include placing a Las Vegas developer on the board of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network? (“Sesame Street is brought to you today by the number snake eyes!”)
Oxford County receives some of that cash. Does that make the casino president a county commissioner? And the host community gets paid, too. Selectman Harrold?
Casino campaign spokeswoman Pat LaMarche dismisses these concerns. (Which is exactly what a casino campaign spokeswoman gets paid to do.) LaMarche told a radio interviewer the referendum legislation is a “mess.” She’s quoted by the Associated Press as saying she’d need “a gallon of Wite-Out” to correct the document’s errors and excesses (among them: lowering the legal age for gambling from 21 to 19, allowing casinos to loan money to gamblers who lose all their own, a 10-year moratorium on anyone else opening a casino in Maine, and funding for a “fractionation development center” — like we needed more fractionation).
LaMarche has said the Legislature could remove those odious provisions from the law, even doing away with the one that allows the casino’s president to serve on every powerful board in the state. But that would only happen after the referendum question wins approval. And once that deal goes down, the public will no longer have any leverage with Olympia.
The voters won’t be the decision-makers, anymore.
They’ll be the rubes.
And slick guys from Vegas don’t make concessions to rubes.
Deal me in on what you’re thinking by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.