Farish: Politics Won't Thwart Horse Industry

Farish: Politics Won't Thwart Horse Industry
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Bill Farish

The folllowing commentary was submitted by Bill Farish, general manager of Lane's End Farm in Central Kentucky. Farish and members of his family are longtime Republicans active on the state and national levels. His comments come as the Kentucky horse industry continues a legislative and political battle over racetrack gaming.

For almost two decades, Kentuckians have been debating the merits of expanded gaming. As our signature racing and breeding industries have become increasingly threatened by our neighboring states, which use revenue from gaming to substantially increase race purses and breeders incentive funds, Kentucky residents have responded with a near unanimous belief that we must do everything possible to protect Kentucky’s horse industry, and the 100,000 jobs that go with it.

A recent statewide poll indicated that nearly 70% of Kentuckians support putting video lottery terminals at Kentucky racetracks. That such a large majority of Kentucky residents would agree on what had been a controversial issue is striking, and speaks to our collective belief that Kentucky’s racing and breeding industries should be put on a level competitive playing field.

Sadly, those who oppose VLTs at racetracks, and who have clearly lost in the court of public opinion, have decided to engage in cynical rhetoric meant to divide our state instead of uniting it.

Senate President David Williams has made it clear that he intends to make protecting our signature industry a partisan issue. After making a promise to every Kentuckian that the issue would receive a fair hearing in the Senate, Sen. Williams sent it to a committee where the chairman declared it dead before even hearing testimony.

Imagine going on trial and the judge declares you guilty before your lawyer even makes an opening statement. Would you consider that a fair hearing? 

Now, in an effort to inject partisan politics into the discussion, Sen. Williams has attacked Governor Beshear and other Democrats for “poisoning the well” in Frankfort. Sen. Williams also seems to suggest that Republicans should oppose VLTs at racetracks as a tenet of our political philosophy.

As a lifelong Republican, and a member of a Kentucky family that has worked on behalf of the Republican Party and Republican administrations, I can say without reservation that protecting our signature industry is not a partisan issue. In fact, the Republican Party should be standing up for Kentucky businesses, Kentucky jobs, and a free market environment that would allow Kentuckians to fairly compete with their out-of-state competitors.

Due to Sen. Williams’ utter mismanagement, this issue now pits Republicans against Republicans, not Republicans against Democrats, as he would have us believe.

Sen. Williams and several members of his caucus are currently advocating that the government should stand in the way of our signature industry, and prevent it from being able to compete. Government interference with Kentucky businesses and job creation does not sound like a Republican philosophy I am familiar with. But regardless, saving 100,000 jobs and the industry that identifies our state all over the world does not rest in the domain of any political party.  It should be the stated goal of all Kentuckians—regardless of political registration.

The other strategy currently being employed is similarly distressing. Opponents have decided that the best way to defeat VLTs at racetracks is to pit horse owners and breeders against racetracks. By suggesting that racetracks are greedy corporations that don’t care about our horse industry, our opponents lay bare their belief that our industry must be divided in order to be defeated. In ramping up his rhetoric, Sen. Williams has made it clear that he intends to demonize Kentucky racetracks at every turn.

The horse industry is as united as it has never been in the past. Opponents of VLTs have always relied on our discord to defeat the efforts to compete on a level playing field. Now that the industry has formed a united front, opponents seek to break us apart again. They will be unsuccessful in their efforts to do so.

Kentucky breeders recognize that we must have a healthy horse economy in this state in order to run successful breeding operations. A healthy horse economy includes buyers willing to invest in our product and take their investment to the racetracks in the hopes of recouping their investment. Owners recognize that they need healthy racetracks offering good purses, so that they can attempt to win back some of their initial investment. Racetrack operators understand that they need breeders to produce and owners to race their horses at their tracks.

We are all in this together, and the attempt to break us into factions is disheartening. A fractured industry cannot survive, and a failed horse industry would be catastrophic for Kentucky’s economy. Sadly, Sen. Williams seems less concerned about helping our industry and more concerned about maintaining control over his Senate fiefdom.

However, as a new legislative session approaches, we will stand together, Republicans and Democrats, owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, and the 100,000 Kentuckians who rely on the horse industry to make a living. We will continue to hold our elected officials accountable, and we will not stop working until our state government gets out of the way and allows us to have the tools necessary to compete.

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