Bone of Contention
by Doug Rubin
Betting on the voters these days seems to be a losing proposition. We are being bombarded with story after story about powerful special interests and big-money contributors spending outrageous sums to manipulate voters. Even the last haven for voters, the promise of direct democracy through the use of ballot questions, has been taken over by large corporations, which often abuse the system to push through favorable legislation.
One group in Massachusetts, however, is bucking this trend. The GREY2K (Greyhound Racing Ends Year 2000) campaign, comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers, is betting that the voters of Massachusetts will see through the haze of special interest money and vote to save greyhounds from the abuses inherent in the racing industry. Despite adoption efforts, greyhound racing is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20,000 dogs nationwide each year. During the past 10 years, there have been more than 70 media-documented cases of cruel treatment of ex-racing dogs, including greyhounds shot to death, left to starve, and electrocuted. Greyhound placement groups nationwide routinely receive dogs that are malnourished, dehydrated, and riddled with parasites.
At each track, hundreds of greyhounds are kept caged for 18 to 20 hours a day. To save money, most kennels feed their dogs raw meat that has been condemned by the USDA and is known to make many dogs ill. The dogs are forced to run at high speeds in the worst weather conditions, often resulting in injury and death.
The group has been trying for a number of years to pass a bill through the state legislature to ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts. Its members are driven by personal experiences working with greyhounds that have been abused and injured by the racing industry. Rebuked time and again by the legislature, the GREY2K campaign took its volunteer effort to the streets of Massachusetts and gathered more than 115,000 signatures from residents across the state to put an initiative to end greyhound racing on the November ballot.
The road to qualifying a ballot question in Massachusetts is arduous. Nearly 60,000 valid signatures from registered voters are required in the fall. An additional 11,000 valid new signatures are required in the spring to secure a spot on the November ballot. Recent court rulings have made the process even more difficult by making it easier to disqualify seemingly valid signatures. In fact, the process is so difficult that every measure that met the 60,000-signature threshold in the fall had hired professional signature gathering firms except the GREY2K campaign, which gathered 100 percent of its signatures through volunteers.
Qualifying for the ballot is only the first step. The campaign now must compete directly with the greyhound racing industry, which has already stated publicly that it will spend millions of dollars to defeat this measure. It has made this commitment despite its request to the state legislature for additional tax breaks and subsidies, which it claims it needs to survive. In fact, a special legislative committee is debating changes in the way the industry is subsidized and regulated by the state. Without additional gambling opportunities or increased subsidies from the state, the tracks claim they are in danger of going out of business.
On the surface, their case makes sense. The amount of money spent on dog racing in Massachusetts has dropped 77 percent since 1990, and attendance has dropped more than 65 percent. Since 1993, six states have banned dog racing, including both Maine and New Hampshire. However, the racetracks are continually mentioned as the most likely venue for the introduction of slot machines and casinos if the legislature allows gambling in Massachusetts. This provides a strong financial incentive for the tracks to stay open. The expansion of gambling at the tracks would also make it virtually impossible to ever eliminate greyhound racing in Massachusetts.
Such a scenario is what drove the GREY2K campaign to undertake the enormous task of organizing a volunteer effort to get on the November ballot. Volunteers from around the state donated their time and energy because they understand the damage caused by greyhound racing. The campaign, however, is about more than banning greyhound racing. The real story behind the GREY2K campaign is one of values. It is about whether the voters of Massachusetts believe the state and private corporations should be in the business of profiting from the abuse of these animals. The racing industry's response is that banning dog racing will negatively impact the state by taking away tax revenues. Putting aside the fact that the tax revenues from racing have declined considerably and that other uses for the real estate occupied by the tracks may increase the tax base and provide higher-paying jobs, the question becomes whether Massachusetts voters want their government to be in the greyhound racing business.
The GREY2K campaign is betting that when Massachusetts voters discover the state's involvement in and financial support of the racing industry, they will vote to end this shameful practice. It's a novel concept these days, betting on the voters. But it may just be a bet that the GREY2K campaign will win on November 7.
Doug Rubin MPP 1997 was hired by the GREY2K campaign as its general consultant. He is also the founder and owner of Viewpoint Strategies, a political and corporate marketing strategy firm based in Massachusetts, and he recently founded DemocracyToday. com, a nonpartisan political Web site designed to enhance dialogue between voters and politicians. Rubin has been involved with more than 75 campaigns at the federal, state, and local level, as well as in South America. He also spent five years as a partner in the political consulting firm of Voter Contact Plus and has lectured on political campaigns for members of the Russian Duma at the KSG and for the Massachusetts and New Hampshire State Democratic Parties. For more information about the GREY2K organization and its ballot initiative to end greyhound racing in Massachusetts, call 617-666-3526 or go to www.grey2K.org/.