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Opinion: Dixie genius to the rescue

Monday, June 2, 2003

KENNETT, Mo. -- I like to think that the inherent, indigenous and inexhaustible genius that prevails throughout much of America's Dixieland will someday rub off on those of us who live right along the Mason-Dixon line or even hundreds of miles north of it.

If you've never given much thought to this remarkable phenomenon, someday when you have a little time consider what would be the condition of New York City, Los Angeles or Detroit had any been targeted for attack, pillage and destruction by outside forces several decades ago. Invading forces from the north did their level best to make certain the great southern cities would not rise for at least the next 250 years during what most historians call the Civil War and the South refers to as the Brief Period of Unpleasantness Between the States.

But the South did rise again, and remarkably quickly, thereby assuring America of such splendid civilizations as Atlanta, Dallas, Miami and Oxford, Miss. This ability to pick oneself up and build something better was never more obvious than when an Arkansas state representative devised a plan to end the financial drought that has plagued every state in every corner of the country since at least 2001 and perhaps even a tad before that. One need look no closer than our own Jefferson City to see what I mean.

The current fund crunch has seen a panorama of wholesale appropriation reductions in public education, higher education, health care, correction systems, highway construction and scores of other invaluable services normally provided by our state governments which today are about as beneficial as a hotel full of Texas legislators hiding out in Oklahoma. Here in our own state, the deleterious battle between our Democratic governor and a Republican legislature has occupied more time, publicity and name-calling than occurred during the War of 1812. It has amounted to a wholesome conversion of ordinary citizens into outsiders with little interest in keeping score.

Fortunately, the Southern genius for converting dreams into reality was sparked by a lone Arkansas legislator named Jim Lendall, who introduced a bill calling for the expenditure of only $3,000 of taxpayer money for a kind of Statewide Development Fund. The proposal is quite simple: With $3,000 to invest, Arkansas state officials would be empowered to buy lottery and Powerball tickets in states such as ours that once had strict gambling regulations that have long since disappeared.

Lendall, who has a long beard and hair falling below his shoulders, assured his fellow lawmakers that $3,000 of public funds would bring home a thousand-fold return on their investment, given his long record of winning in such notorious venues as New Orleans, Las Vegas and the closest Indian reservation. He obviously knows what he's talking about and probably deserves more respect and attention than we have been giving Bill Bennett lately.

Indeed, at the last meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators in Boston, the Arkansas lawmaker was besieged by scores of fellow delegates seeking details of his plan in order that they might introduce similar legislation in their home states. Said Lendall: "They told me they thought it was one of the most novel ways to raise money. At a time when services are being cut and people are losing jobs, a similar argument can be made in every state."

Imagine the excitement in Jefferson City as Gov. Bob Holden gathers a group of state lawmakers at the local Amtrak station for a trip to the casino at the Scalpem Indian Reservation in Butte, Mont., for a weekend of bipartisan gambling, all in the good name of starving families in Ladue and Clayton who have been stripped of their food stamps because of bankruptcy in Jefferson City. It's enough to restore full faith and confidence in our democratic system of government.

To conserve their winnings, Missouri's Statewide Development Commission may choose to remain within the confines of Show Me State's borders and invest in our state lottery and its associated games of chance, and perhaps it can also launch the race track plans that were proposed as long ago as the last time Missouri had to worry about raising enough money to open its public schools each fall.

Then, maybe those of us not running for office in 2004 can get a little rest.

Jack Stapleton is the editor of Missouri News & Editorial Service.


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