You have to give Jim Black credit he doesn’t scare easy or at all.
Earlier this year, Speaker Black, his optometrist allies and his video poker supporters testified at State Board of Elections hearings investigating allegations of corruption growing out of the ‘pay to play’ scandals. There were revelations of blank checks (without the recipients names filed in) to politicians, convenience store clerks contributing thousands of dollars (of what sounded like other people’s money) to politicians and during the hearings a former legislative ally of Black’s took the Fifth Amendment.
Now the legislature’s back in town and in the blink of an eye Senate Leader Marc Basnight sent two fastballs whizzing by the heads of Black and his colleagues in the House. The Senators voted to ban video poker and to repeal the law Black sponsored to require children to have eye exams before entering school. This puts the Senate nose to nose with Black and his House allies. Black has been the Legislature’s leading supporter of video poker. And he passed the eye exam requirement, critics say, for his optometrist allies.
What happened when the Senate voted thumbs down on two of Black’s pet projects? Black didn’t blink.
He announced he was willing to allow children to start school before they get their eye exams – instead of before. But added, as an optometrist himself, he knew more about the importance of eye exams for school children than anyone else in the Legislature. The requirement stays.
He also, in effect, pocket vetoed the Senate video poker ban by sending it to a House Committee instead of bringing it to a vote. The ban may see the light of day later but don’t bet on it.
This seems to say two interesting things. First, as far as the ‘pay to play’ scandals go, Black doesn’t think there’s much of a scandal, at least politically. He’s not about to back off helping his allies with legislation.
Second, the Senate disagrees with Black. The Senate does seem to have gotten the message that – ‘pay to play’ – is a political liability. In the end, the Senators may not be willing to make real reforms. But by ‘goring’ two of Black’s pet projects they’re sending a message that makes it look like they’re willing to try to clean up the mess.
This poses a new problem for Black. He’s been getting plenty of criticism from the Republicans and the press about ‘pay to play.’ Now, he’s getting it from the Democrats in the Senate too. And he has to block these efforts at ethics reform in the legislature.
Speaker Black may be so powerful this new opposition doesn’t matter. But, then again, he seems to be taking on a lot of unpopular fights to keep on doing business as usual.
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