Onslow senator feeling pressure on gaming bill

By: - August 15, 2005 5:21 am

Jacksonville Daily News


Freedom Raleigh Bureau

RALEIGH – Much of the attention in the debate in the state Senate over a lottery bill has focused on five Democrats who are breaking with the majority in their party and opposing the gambling games.

But a freshman Republican senator – Harry Brown, who hails from Onslow County – has also found himself in the middle of the mix. That’s because unlike his GOP colleagues in the Senate, he’s let it be known that under certain circumstances, he’d be willing to vote for a lottery.

"He’s a real popular guy right now," Sen. Phil Berger, the Senate’s Republican leader from Rockingham County said of all the attention that Brown is getting from lottery supporters.

Brown appears to be sticking to his guns that he will only vote for a lottery if the proceeds go to help build schools.

"I made my statement that the only way I can support the lottery is for all the money to go to school construction," Brown said.

Under the proposal being considered, less than half the money – 40 percent – would go toward school construction. Another half of the net proceeds would go to help reduce class size, reduce the achievement gap between minority and white children and pre-kindergarten programs. The remaining 10 percent would be used for college scholarships.

"That money will come into the front door and go out the back door," Brown said.

Brown said that while he is morally opposed to a lottery, he could vote for a school construction lottery because of the needs in Jones County, one of the two counties he represents.

"They need a high school and a middle school with no way to raise the money," Brown said.

Sen. Tony Rand, a Cumberland County Democrat who is also the Senate majority leader and floor handler of the lottery, said the current bill would provide considerable money for school construction in the counties Brown represents.

Figures show that Onslow County would get $3.3 million a year and Jones County would get $203,000 a year in school construction lottery proceeds.

Rand said the spending plan for lottery proceeds is a good mix.

"We think what we’ve done is a very good balance," Rand said.

He noted that Gov. Mike Easley, who has championed the lottery, has compromised by agreeing to allow money to be spent for construction." I think he’s a fellow who cares about the future of North Carolina and cares about these children," Rand said of Brown.

Brown said that he knew the lottery debate would be a high-pressure issue.

But Berger said Brown is handling the pressure well.

During a recess on the Senate floor Saturday, Berger remarked about Brown’s calm demeanor.

"A lot of folks when they’ve been leaned on look as though they’ve been beaten up," Berger said.

Barry Smith can be reached at [email protected].

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066