So I tuned into last night's KCRG-TV9/Gazette casino vote forum on channel 9.2, or the deuce. Or maybe the snake eyes, since we're talking about gambling.
Rick Smith has fine coverage here.
Not much new ground was plowed, I'm afraid. But, I think, if the night had a theme, it would be "Transparency - You're Screwed Either Way."
Just Say No Casino has made a big show of its demands for transparency from Vote Yes Linn County and the local casino investors behind it. They demanded the names of investors and the location of the casino and emails from local officials involved in negotiating the deal between investors, who would build the casino, and the non-profit entity that would hold the state license.
I also argued for more transparency, mainly because I'm nosy and undecided. I just wanted more information.
But that's not why a well-funded campaign run by professional political strategists, such as Just Say No and LinkStrategies, wants its opponents to spill the goods. They're looking for weaknesses to exploit, openings for attack and fodder for rapid media messaging. Every disclosure yields ammunition, and more demands, and maybe more ammunition.
So you demand the names of investors. Most of the investors' names are released. Clark McCleod's name happens to be on the list of nearly 60 investors, so, during last night's forum, you take shots at the McLeod USA debacle that still sticks in so many local craws, and also entangles Gray.
But hey, these investors are successful, shrewd local businessmen and women. So, last night, you raise the specter that they'll just sell the casino in a few years to some shadowy out-of-town interest. Well, that's what shrewd businesspeople would do, isn't it?
The location finally gets disclosed, on largely-city owned land downtown on the west side of the Cedar River. So then you accuse investors and the city of working some backroom "sweetheart deal." Always a winning message around these parts. You claim, falsely, that the city will give away the land, even though all evidence points to the contrary. The false claim gets taken off one TV station, KCRG, but still runs plenty on others and on the radio.
When the emails Just Say No demanded don't show evidence of a backroom deal, they criticize city leaders for not being in the backroom fighting for a better deal.
Opponents who own nearby casinos say the Cedar Rapids casino will take a huge chunk of their business. Investors then disclose that they expect only $18 million to come from nearby casinos. So, then, other opponents argue that the casino will mostly victimize locals, causing all sorts of social costs.
You'r e either cannibals or exploiters of your neighbors. Which is it?
No disclosure is soon enough or complete enough. And every disclosure leads to a new round of ads and mailers. You can't win.
I actually thought that a lack of details from investors would be a problem for Vote Yes. Now, it seems like the casino's cause of death might be disclosure. You gotta love politics.
And Just Say No continues to be shocked, shocked, that anyone would suggest that an anti-gambling campaign paid for by existing casino interests smells of hypocrisy.
Casino money? What casino money?
"I don't know who's paying the bills," Just Say No's Scott Stines insisted last night, to groans of disbelief.
Stines can pretend all he wants that this is some ragtag, grassroots $23,000 campaign, circa 2003, but it sure doesn't look like or act like one. It's a well-financed machine, fueled, apparently, by transparency. And gambling cash.