By David Skolnick
When “I’ll try to talk without getting too emotional” came out of his mouth, it was time for Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras to betray his words.
The volume of his monologue grew louder and louder until he was yelling.
If someone opened a window in Youngstown City Council chambers on the 6th floor of city hall, people outside could have heard Betras.
It’s easy for Betras, a skilled attorney, to work himself into a frenzy — or at least appear to do so.
Issue 3, a state constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot to build four gambling casinos in the state, is one that Betras publicly and passionately opposes.
Youngstown City Council voted 7-0 in opposition to Issue 3, and were going to do so regardless of what Betras said. Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, also at the council meeting, is among several co-chairmen of a group opposed to the casino issue.
Just because he was in front of a friendly crowd Betras wasn’t going to stop.
Betras opposes the issue not because it changes the Ohio Constitution. He also doesn’t oppose it because he doesn’t want to legalize gambling in the state.
His opposition is based solely on the fact that none of those four proposed casinos are being located in the Mahoning Valley.
“The issue isn’t whether you support or oppose gambling,” he said. “The issue is they passed us up.”
If voters approve the issue, the future locations of casinos would be in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.
Betras points out that the Valley has a higher unemployment rate than those four cities and is an area in desperate need of jobs and revenue.
“This area is hurting the most,” he said. The gambling proposal is “insulting and it’s a joke.”
Supporters of the gambling initiative say Youngstown and Mahoning County would each receive $3.5 million annually under their plan.
That’s $3.5 million than the city and county are receiving now from gambling.
But it’s not enough for Betras. The cities where the casinos would be located would receive considerably more money than this area.
“Columbus needs another job plan like we need another steel mill closing,” said Betras, who I presume was exaggerating.
And Betras apparently doesn’t have much faith in the state government, run largely by fellow Democrats.
“Whatever money we get [from the casinos] will be taken from the state” through reductions in the Local Government Fund, he said.
Betras said this issue needs the support of Valley voters to be passed statewide. [A recent Ohio Newspaper Poll shows the issue with 59 percent support statewide and only 38 percent in opposition.]
He then threw in another exaggeration for emphasis.
Betras claims the Mahoning Valley provides 20 percent to 25 percent of the Democratic vote in each election.
The Valley is definitely a Democratic stronghold. But even in the best of elections, Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties combined don’t come close to the Democratic vote totals from just Cuyahoga County.
For example, in 2006, when Democrat Ted Strickland was elected governor, 6.4 percent of his total general election vote came from the three Valley counties compared to 13.8 percent from Cuyahoga.
In that same year, the Valley provided 7.4 percent of the vote for Democrat Marc Dann, who won as attorney general and then resigned less than a year later. Cuyahoga gave Dann 12.8 percent of his total vote.
Also, playing on the premise that Democrats need the Valley is a flawed argument in this case.
Issue 3 isn’t a Democratic Party-backed bill. The passage of Issue 3 takes control of legalized gambling away from the state, which doesn’t please Democrats.
It will be interesting to see the vote totals from the Valley on this issue to see how much political strength Betras truly has.