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The battle is not over for self-determination about horse racing

By Thursday, Dec 12, 2019 Letters 3

To the editor:

To the residents of Gt. Barrington.

I am concerned that a large number of the people who attended the Great Barrington special town meeting tonight, Dec. 11, and, like me, voted in favor of the warrant that was under consideration, are under the mistaken impression that the almost unanimous vote in favor the warrant ensures that the citizens of Great Barrington now have the right to vote in a town meeting to determine whether or not they wish to allow horse racing to return to Great Barrington fairgrounds.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, what tonight’s action accomplished was, essentially, to ask our elected representatives in the state legislature, Adam Hinds and Smitty Pignatelli, to draft, and introduce, a bill to the legislature asking them to grant Great Barrington residents the right to self-determination in the matter of horse racing by approving a home rule petition.

More simply, we are asking Hinds and Pignatelli to ask the state legislature to allow us to decide for ourselves whether we want horse racing in Great Barrington.

That is the same state legislature that is already attempting to ram horse racing down our collective throats by passing Senate Bill 101 which is being sponsored by the state Racing and Gaming Commission, Suffolk Downs, and state Sen. Joseph Boncore whose district is the home of Suffolk Downs. Until recently, Hinds, who dropped his support for the bill under intense public pressure, was a co-sponsor of S101 in the legislature.

So, it seems to me that we may have won a minor skirmish in this matter, but the battle is not over. There is still a lot of work to do before we arrive at a point where the citizens of Great Barrington are guaranteed the right to self-determination on the issue of horse racing.

Hinds and Pignatelli are not obligated to even begin drafting any legislation, and there is no guarantee that whatever they come up with will pass in the legislature.

The article that passed also gives permission to the state legislature to “make constructive changes in the text hereof as may be necessary or advisable to accomplish the intent of this proposed legislation in order to secure its passage,” but there is no provision in the article requiring any public review and comment of any changes the legislature might make to the language of the home rule petition that could water down, or even nullify our right to self-determination on this issue.

And, as has been widely reported, the legislature already seems eager to subvert local jurisdiction with respect to horse racing licenses in the current language of S101.

In materials that were handed out at tonight’s meeting the final paragraph outlined the inherent jeopardy that looms over this matter: “A yes vote tonight will direct Great Barrington’s legislators, Adam Hinds and Smitty Pignatelli, to present and champion this legislation on Beacon Hill. Even if they fail in getting this legislation passed, your YES vote tonight will give a clear message to the legislature, to the select board, and to the gaming commission, that the citizens of Great Barrington demand local control.”

We will have to be careful and vigilant in shepherding this article through the legislative process — the fight for self-determination on the issue of horse racing has just begun, and if we do not succeed, and S101 passes as is, I doubt that the legislature is going to give two hoots about the demands of the citizens of Great Barrington.

Stephen Donaldson
Great Barrington