One of the worst decisions states ever made was to take over gambling businesses.
Mobsters used to run the numbers games. In big cities, heads of crime syndicates called this form of gambling “the policy racket.”
And they were the policy kings. Organized crime made millions off the masses that gambled nickels and dimes on the slender chance of winning a jackpot.
We still have plenty of criminals, organized or not. But state governments long ago took over the numbers games. The only difference is that states call them lotteries instead of rackets.
In New Mexico, with a population of just 2 million people, there’s always a lot of worrying by those in government about the lottery losing customers.
The crew that runs the lottery arrives at the state Capitol every January to plead for the same old bills. They want lawmakers to allow them to spend more money on lottery prizes and promotions. After all, they only keep their jobs if saps or people with money to burn keep gambling away their dollars on lottery tickets.
Once in a while, though, somebody wins a lottery jackpot big enough to change his life for the better. It doesn’t always work out that way, though.
State Sen. Pat Woods is worried about that, too.
Woods, R-Broadview, says the few gamblers lucky enough to win hundreds of thousands of dollars often are fleeced by con artists or “relatives” who suddenly appear.
To stop these parasites from victimizing anyone else, Woods sponsored Senate Bill 397 to keep the names of lottery winners secret.
His fellow senators approved the bill in a vote of 32-2. Then it swept through the House of Representatives, 61-0.
Now Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham must decide whether to make lottery secrecy a state law.
She should veto this measure, then stomp on it in the public square to emphasize how flawed it was.
Legislators this year were especially fond of bills to restrict access to what should be public information. Burying the names of lottery winners in the tomb of the unknown bureaucrat was a measure that received approval with scant debate.
It’s a terrible policy. If the state is going to run a gambling operation and advertise it as the fun-filled New Mexico Lottery, it shouldn’t be able to withhold the names of winners.
Legislators talk all the time about their fear of Big Brother interfering with people’s lives. But they believe lottery winners are so unsophisticated they need government to protect them by establishing a secret society.
In a muddleheaded way, Woods probably thought he was doing the right thing.
Woods is a good old boy who wears a cowboy hat and is diligent in his legislative duties. He says he just wants gamblers who won a lot of money to hold onto it.
But Woods also voted against another bill on grounds of government overreach.
He opposed Senate Bill 76, which would outlaw contests to see who can kill the most coyotes.
Woods believes coyotes are the people’s business.
It’s strange how he doesn’t feel the same way about the state-run lottery.
Another bill to weaken the state public records law faded away Saturday during the final hours of the legislative session. The measure, Senate Bill 259, would have allowed public agencies to withhold the names of applicants for executive jobs, such as city manager or superintendent of schools. Only the names of the three finalists would become public.
Woods, a former school board member, voted against this bill. But it cleared the Senate 27-14 and advanced all the way to the full House of Representatives. It died there, never receiving a final vote.
Keeping secret the names of applicants for key public jobs would not benefit the public. The bill was the creation of people who have sat on search committees. They claim, without substantiation, that good candidates will not apply for executive jobs if their names become public early in the process.
Sen. Bill Tallman, who spent his career as a city manager, introduced the bill. Tallman, D-Albuquerque, told me he had no fervor for the idea of withholding the names of job candidates. He said he carried the measure as a favor to a man who thinks it would help.
If proponents of the bill are to be believed, city managers, county managers and school administrators live in mortal fear of their bosses finding out that they applied for another job that pays more. So they supposedly won’t apply.
These administrators should remember the most famous three-word admonition in politics: “Grow a spine.”
That should be Tallman’s response the next time someone seeking a high-paying public job asks for identity protection.