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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Miers and the Texas Lottery: One riot, one ranger

On NRO's The Corner, John J. Miller posted this today under the heading "Call Her The Gambler" (hyperlinks in original):

Hugh Hewitt has now criticized me twice (at least) for raising a simple question earlier this week: Why aren’t evangelicals more concerned about the fact that Harriet Miers ran the Texas lottery? Memo to HH: Of course I recognize that evangelicals make up a diverse group with varied opinions on the merits and morals of gambling. But a large number of them also oppose it passionately. Earlier this year, Jim Dobson, Chuck Colson, and more than 200 other religious leaders signed an open letter that called gambling a “menace to our national welfare." Well, what’s the Texas lottery if not state-sponsored gambling? (Go here for more evangelical perspectives on lotteries.) Miers’ public record is thin, but the Texas lottery is part of it. Perhaps she disagrees with Dobson and other evangelical leaders on whether governments should be in the gambling business. Perhaps she even took the lottery job, as Hewitt suggests, “with the aim of improving it” (whatever that means). I would certainly like to know more. I just wish Hewitt didn’t consider the question inconvenient.

Of course, this drips with the implication, intended or not, that there's something hypocritical about not only "evangelicals," but also Ms. Miers. But let's give Mr. Miller credit, and presume that he wasn't trying to frame a "when'd ya stop beating your wife" question. (If he was, I hope to show that it didn't work.) I can't speak for Hugh, nor for Ms. Miers, nor for evangelicals — but I think there's an extremely obvious and plausible answer.

Long, familiar story told very short: The creation of the Texas Lottery was indeed controversial — and not just among evangelicals. Of course some of the opposition was based on religious views, but there were also substantial objections that had nothing directly to do with religion or even morality. Ultimately, however, the proponents of the proposed lottery — and especially those who argued that Texans were playing other states' lotteries anyway, enriching those states with revenue streams that ought to be used for noble purposes within Texas — carried the day. For good or for ill, the people spoke through their elected officials, and the Texas Lottery came into being. Some future Texas Legislature may change or abolish it, but since well before George W. Bush took office as Governor of Texas, the Texas Lottery has been a fait accompli.

And while one may argue whether its performance has lived up to expectations, no one can doubt that the Texas Lottery has indeed become an important source of public revenues in this state. According to its website, of every $1.00 received by the Texas Lottery: 58¢ goes back out in prize money, 7¢ goes to lottery administration, and 5¢ goes to the retailers who sell the tickets. That means that 30¢ of every $1.00 goes to the Texas Foundation School Fund:

The Texas Lottery has contributed more than $7 billion to the Foundation School Fund! The Texas Education Agency administers the Fund, which is used for school districts' public education services at the local level.

That $7 billion is the biggest part of the more than $12 billion in revenue the Texas Lottery has generated for Texas since the first lottery ticket was sold in May 1992. Lottery revenues have gone to the Foundation School Fund since September 1, 1997, as directed by the State Legislature. Prior to that date, they were allocated to the General Revenue Fund.

Unclaimed lottery prize funds revert to the State to be appropriated for health care, medical education, and other programs authorized by the state legislature.

Again, to grossly oversimplify: We're still fighting tooth and nail about public school finance issues in Texas, and we have been for decades now. But regardless of whether one approved of the Texas Lottery's creation or approves of its continued operation, and regardless of whether one wishes to support it by buying tickets, the revenue stream from the Texas Lottery — and that revenue stream's importance to Texas governance and in particular to public education in Texas — cannot be ignored by whoever sits in the Governor's Mansion in Austin.

By the time George W. Bush became Governor, serious problems had arisen inside then-still-young Texas Lottery. There were, at a minimum, serious appearances of impropriety and incompetence that neither he nor any other Governor of Texas could ignore. Dubya needed a trouble-shooter, a fix-it person — someone in whom he had boundless confidence as to both her effectiveness and her integrity. In the grand Texas tradition of "one riot, one ranger," he asked Harriet Miers to do that ugly, vital job.

What went through her mind when he asked? I don't know; perhaps we'll learn something of that during her confirmation hearings. But my strong hunch is that her first reaction was intensely negative.

Let's again put religion and morality and ethics completely aside for a moment: The Texas Lottery, and any lottery, is a sucker's play from a purely mathematical standpoint. Lotteries have aptly been called a tax on morons, voluntarily and eagerly assumed by them. Oh yes, courtroom lawyers are gamblers by nature, and we have to be. But to the extent that the gambling metaphor fits our professional activities (and it does fit, reasonably well), we're poker players, friends and neighbors, and we're committed to the notion that by vigorously and creatively representing our clients within the bounds of law and ethics, we can reduce randomness and, perhaps sometimes, beat the odds through skill and preparation. Personally, I've never spent a single thin dime on the Texas Lottery, and I never will.

Nor was taking a position at the head of the Lottery Commission a résumé credential for someone who'd already progressed along Harriet Miers' career path. (Indeed, her critics scoff at it now.) It was, at best, a sidestep, and one fraught with huge risks if she failed — risks that could have ended not just her work at the Lottery, but for all practical purposes her entire professional career.

And finally, if we do make some reasonable assumptions about Ms. Miers' faith and how it might affect her views of the Texas Lottery: Her reflexive shudder upon being asked to take up this particular task may have been long and profound indeed. This will strike you as either corny or self-evident for me to say, but I'm quite sure that she prayed about it. And it wouldn't surprise me if she and Dubya prayed together about it.

But the consistent, dominant theme of Harriet Miers' life has been service: Service to her family, her church, her community, her law firm, her profession, and to her clients (both paying and pro bono). George W. Bush gave her the opportunity for service to the State of Texas and its Governor. Recall that she has shown personal courage, and dedication to principle despite swift countercurrents, when she fought to return the American Bar Association to its original apolitical status as a service organization — even though to do so, she had to risk being identified unfairly (as is now in fact happening) with the modern, politicized ABA's pro-abortion agenda.

The Texas Lottery was going to go forward no matter her answer; the only question was, on a going-forward basis, would it be (and appear to be) competent and clean (at least as much as a state-run lottery can be), or would it be (or appear to be) incompetent and corrupt? So when Dubya asked, what ultimately happened was that Harriet Miers apparently gulped down any reservations she may have had, and then she saluted. (Not a mindless robotic salute; a knowing and dutiful salute.) She took the job, she rolled up her sleeves, she started digging, she started applying her fact-gathering and management skills, and then she started taking names and kicking butt. (The name-taking was quite literal; the butt-kicking was metaphorical, but nevertheless no doubt quite impressive to those who found themselves suddenly and dramatically unemployed.)

Some pundits are muttering ominously and self-importantly about imminent "surprises" having to do with Ms. Miers' involvement with the Texas Lottery which they say are about to break into the public consciousness. Well, okay; maybe. Color me very skeptical, because anything that could be used to discredit Ms. Miers could also have been used to discredit Dubya, and there's been no shortage of people down here in Texas looking for ways to discredit Dubya for the last decade or more. (Think Ben Barnes and Mary Mapes and you'll only have scratched the surface. The whole Ben Barnes/TANG story began in civil litigation over Texas Lottery problems. One wonders who may be out scouting for late 1990s-era word processing software and printers even as you read this.) So we'll see what happens. But from my viewpoint as a Texan today, on the most elemental, macroscopic level, Harriet Miers' service with the Texas Lottery can be boiled down to this: (a) Broken before she went there, and (b) Fixed when she left. Oh, sure, she had some help, as I know she'd be the first to insist. But still, in the big picture: One riot, one ranger; then no more riot.

(This, of course, is bound to become the subject of smug tittering like her service to the Bush-43 Administration, and thereby the Nation, as White House Staff Secretary. "Oh, she not only served coffee at the White House, she cleaned house back in Texas!" No good deed goes unpunished, it seems, nor great deed unmocked.)

Regardless of what you, she, or any of them think about the ethical and moral and religious implications of the Texas Lottery, Mr. Miller, evangelicals and other fair-minded people aren't more concerned about the fact that Harriet Miers ran the Texas Lottery because they recognize that it was critically important to the State of Texas — to its Governor, its legislators, its citizens, and especially to its children — that someone brave, competent, and responsible step up to fix its problems. She was (indeed, she still is) — and so she did.

Posted by Beldar at 07:38 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Miers and the Texas Lottery: One riot, one ranger and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Miers IV from Small Town Veteran

Tracked on Oct 12, 2005 11:55:29 PM

» Bush's nominee to replace O'Connor is Harriet Miers from I Love Everything

Tracked on Oct 13, 2005 12:58:31 AM


(1) YouGottaBeKidding made the following comment | Oct 12, 2005 7:53:38 PM | Permalink


Isn't it Mary Mapes? (and Marla Maples, second ex-wife of Donald Trump?)

As usual, you've written a good read.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 12, 2005 8:17:38 PM | Permalink

Oops. Duly corrected! (And sorry, Marla, wherever you are.)

(3) Crank made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 9:34:37 AM | Permalink

Good post.

I do think Miller's getting some undeserved heat, esp. from Hewitt - I think he just thought (being a state-level elections specialist) that given opposition to lotteries elsewhere this might be an issue and should be flagged as one. I take him at his word that he didn't intend to accuse anyone of being a hypocrite (has Miller been one of the more actively anti-Miers people at NRO? I haven't noticed).

I've seen some lefty blogs muttering darkly about how this gives them the chance to reopen the world of Ben Barnes. Ugh.

(4) mcg made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 9:54:13 AM | Permalink

I will take Miller at his word, too, that he did not intend to accuse anyone of hypocrisy either. But his questions and their tone suggest, frankly, only one of two interpretations: 1) an attempt to expose hypocrisy or 2) a stereotypical and oversimplified view of evangelicals. Since he denies #1, and I accept, it must be #2. Why can't he just assume that evangelicals understand that their fellow bretheren are sometimes called to do dirty work, and when they are, they are to do it faithfully and honestly?

(5) Peggy made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 10:51:15 AM | Permalink

When I saw the mention about Miers' work at the Texas Lottery at NRO, the first thought that came to mind, knowing Bush, was that he sent her in to clean up a mess. The context of Miller's comments, which is NRO's rabid rejection of Miers, certainly does imply something morally wrong about her having worked at the Lottery.

There's been an irrationality about NRO's response to Miers nomination that is very disturbing.

(6) cletus made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 4:36:16 PM | Permalink

It puzzles me how anyone would read Miller as charging anyone with hypocrisy.

It is a bit surprising that the head of a state-run gambling operation has gotten no flak from Evangelicals on this point, is it not?

I actually inquired about this several days ago on RedState and was immediately banned.

As I pointed out there, Miers involvement with gambling suggests that we ought not leap to conclusions, as Miers' defenders do, about her positions on moral issues simply on the basis of her membership in an Evangelical church.

(7) jaed made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 7:47:10 PM | Permalink

Mrgle. This reminds me vaguely of the huge spasm of self-righteousness over the fact that William Bennett gambles. This was supposed to be proof of "hypocrisy" or something, never mind that last time I checked Bennett is Catholic, and the Catholic Church does not regard gambling as sinful.

For that matter, wasn't Harriet Miers raised Catholic? Perhaps she retains their attitude on this point.

Or maybe she thinks any involvement in gambling means you'll burn in hell - it's possible - but so far as I know, swearing opposition to gambling isn't generally required before you darken the door of an evangelical Christian church. So why is this assumed to be a problem?

(8) jafco made the following comment | Oct 13, 2005 7:51:17 PM | Permalink

Cletus: Christians remember "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s."

She had a worldly job to do, and apparently she did it well. I despise lotteries, but I despise corruption in running lotteries even more. I'll give Ms. Miers praise for ridding Texas of the worst of two evils. The people will have to get rid of the remainder.


(9) Ron C made the following comment | Oct 14, 2005 4:29:19 AM | Permalink

Thank you very much for this insight - a little knowledge sure can illuminate the darkness!

(10) cletus made the following comment | Oct 14, 2005 9:12:55 AM | Permalink

I'll grant that there are plenty of plausible explanations for the lack of evangelical interest in Miers' involvement in gambling.

The larger point, which I don't think has really been raised, is the second: How can we assume that Miers takes the evangelical position on moral issues when she clearly has more "nuanced" views on gambling.

Isn't it possible that an equally nuanced position might lead a "pro-life" judge to uphold Roe?

(11) furious made the following comment | Oct 14, 2005 5:01:16 PM | Permalink


Be gentle -- State Lotteries aren't a tax on morons, just a tax on people who are bad at math.


(12) jackbrein made the following comment | Oct 16, 2005 10:10:36 AM | Permalink

The article is long yet definitely a piece of substance, without a doubt. I didn't know that much about Texas Lottery, before reading this one. Thanks. Yes, I am one of those who believe that lotteries and gambling give the world more pluses than negatives.

(13) The Ancient Mariner made the following comment | Oct 16, 2005 7:24:54 PM | Permalink

In case you're interested, the original source of that line, properly phrased, was Tommy Douglas, the founder of Canada's socialist labor party, then called the CCP, now the NDP: "Gambling is a tax on the stupid."

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