Jay Hickey was just about at wit's end when I got through to him by telephone on Dec. 15, the final day of the 106th Congress. As president of the American Horse Council, the chief lobbying organization for the horse industry in Washington, D.C., Hickey was more concerned with upcoming votes in the House and Senate than he was with sharing holiday greetings with a reporter.
"Jeez, we got past immigration and Amtrak, and it's down to the sea lions in Alaska," Hickey deadpanned. "If we can take care of their food shortage, we might get the Interstate Horseracing Act clarification language we need before adjournment. But Sen. (Ted) Stevens said he may filibuster this thing and force us to start all over."
Immigration? Amtrak? Sea lions in Alaska? What's this have to do with simulcasting and account wagering?
When Congress gets ready to shut down and hasn't passed a budget bill for the following year, it's the silly season, when all kinds of things get thrown into one giant appropriations bill, and one major objection can bring the entire process to a grinding halt.
Hickey had been working with a number of Congressmen to help ensure the continuation of simulcasting and telephone and account wagering in states where it's legal. The IHA clarification language was considered necessary in the face of efforts by the Justice Department to deem the exchange of betting information from one state to another as a violation of the federal Wire Act of 1961. Since the Wire Act was adopted specifically to crack down on illegal bookmakers, using the law to possibly shut down legal, regulated pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing seemed absurd. But so do many things that happen in Washington.
Stevens (R-Alaska) is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His concern wasn't with sea lions but with the economic havoc that would befall Alaskan fishermen if the sea lions were protected by fishing limits.
Eventually, a compromise was reached with $30 million in compensation provided to fishing communities hurt by a ban. Compromises also were worked out on immigration, Amtrak, Medicare, and countless other issues that were tossed into the legislative stew, including research on sunflowers and funding for Reindeer Herders. The House and Senate passed the omnibus measure and went home.
The fishermen of Alaska are fortunate to have someone like Stevens looking out for their best interests (and it goes without saying the sea lions are happy to have environmentalists fighting for their cause). By the same token, the Thoroughbred industry should be grateful for a number of Congressmen who fought to make sure the clarification language remained in the final appropriations bill. "It ain't over till it's over," Hickey reminded me.
To that end, Hickey said the entire Kentucky delegation deserved special credit, in particular Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning and Rep. Hal Rogers. "The Kentucky delegation has been carrying the water for this industry for 30 years," he said. The other Kentuckians in Congress are Anne Northup, Ernie Fletcher, Ken Lucas, Ron Lewis, and Ed Whitfield.
That's not to say the horse industry doesn't have other friends in Washington. Among the supporters in the House and Senate are Karen Thurmond, Bill McCollum, and Cliff Stearns of Florida; Jerry Weller of Illinois; Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania; John Sweeney of New York; Bob Riley of Alabama; Diane Feinstein of California; Mary Lendrieu of Louisiana; Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas; Jon Kyl of Arizona; and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
Hickey forgot to say anything about himself, of course, and that's par for the course. But without Hickey's tireless efforts to round up and coordinate the support, this industry might be as endangered as the sea lions off Alaska.