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Published in the Baptist Standard 2/10/09,
written by: Ken Camp

SAN ANTONIO—A young girl’s birthday present became a Valentine’s gift of love to hungry children.
On the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Pastor Dan Treviño at Harlandale Baptist Church in San Antonio made a brief presentation about showing love and meeting the needs of hungry people through the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger.
That same Sunday, an eight-year-old girl in the congregation—Kimberly—celebrated her birthday. In keeping with the traditions of her Hispanic culture, she wore a money corsage made of dollar bills that friends pinned to her dress.

Earlier that morning, when the congregation sang “Happy Birthday” to Kimberly, Treviño had noticed the length of her corsage. Near the end of the service, the pastor noticed her taking the corsage apart, but he assumed she was just passing the time counting and playing with her money.
But as the deacons collected the offering, Kimberly approached the pastor on the platform, holding in her hand all the money she had received except for a single dollar pinned to her dress.

“Pastor Dan,” she said, “I want to give this to help feed the hungry children around the world.”

Treviño walked to the pulpit where he had a Texas-shaped bank provided by the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission to collect loose change for the world hunger offering.

Kimberly put all the money in her hand into the bank, and then she unpinned the last dollar from her dress and “placed it in the offering plate for Jesus,” Treviño recalled.

“The amazing part is Kimberly and her family are recipients of our food and clothing ministry. They are a very poor family, and this was going to be her biggest birthday ever," he added.

When Treviño told the congregation what Kimberly had done, “there was not one dry eye in the sanctuary,” he said. “God moved through the thoughtfulness and heart of a child. People at the end of the service as they walked out were putting dollar bills in my coat pocket for world hunger.”

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NEW BRAUNFELS – At the corner of San Antonio and Hickory streets sits a doctor’s office like any other. But like none other in town. Full Story »

Indian Gambling Bill

On Tuesday, February 17, Representative Norma Chavez (D-El Paso) filed HB 1308. The bill would give a defense to prosecution for Indian tribes that conduct otherwise illegal casino gambling operations. The bill does not legalize gambling, but merely excuses the behavior and gives the tribes a way to avoid punishment for violation of the law. The bill is the exact same piece of legislation which failed to pass the House last session. According to Rep. Chavez and other supporters, the bill would simply allow two tribes, the Tigua of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta of Livingston to reopen illegal casinos that were shut down several years ago. While sympathetic to the desperate conditions on these two reservations, the Christian Life Commission opposes this piece of legislation because we believe that the consequences of passage may be far more expansive than what proponents are indicating. Specifically, the vague language in the bill would actually allow other tribes from out of state to operate casinos in Texas. The CLC will be following the legislation very closely and working to drastically amend or defeat the bill.

Literacy Day at the Capitol
On Thursday, February 12 the CLC hosted “Literacy Day” at the capitol. The turnout was tremendous and the support of key legislators like Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) and House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler (R-Woodlands) was wonderful. After gathering for training at First Baptist Austin the group of over 400 individuals, including 260 adult learners from over 16 Texas towns, headed to the capitol to make visits to legislative offices. Following the visits, a rally was held on the south steps of the capitol where the crowd, including members of the media, heard from elected officials, business representatives, local officials, the heads of state agencies and literacy advocates. The following reflection of the event was written by CLC volunteer Patricia Presley.

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. It is also Literacy Day at the Texas Capitol hosted by the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas and the Christian Life Commission. I was struck by the irony, for lack of a better term, of Literacy Day and the birthday celebration of a self taught man, who rose to the height of power in our country occurring on the same day. Lincoln was a tough, “uneducated” man whose words would help “bind the wounds of a broken country.”

Today, Lincoln could not reach such heights as a self educated man; words alone would not be enough to help him find a bright future. As I looked into the faces of the men and women registering as advocates for literacy, I saw excitement mingled with a wariness born of asking for so long what must I do to make a better future for my children, my husband or my wife, and hearing no answer. Did they sense that the power of literacy in Lincoln’s day and today are so different that even the “great communicator” would be silent in today’s world?

But as they prepared for their meetings with legislators, wariness was replaced with an eagerness to tell their stories. Eagerness beating back the disbelief that “someone will listen to me” to a fierceness giving birth to hope that my family will have a better future because of what I say and do on this day. Voices of broken English, accents and Texan drawl, mothers, fathers, and expectant parents left First Baptist Church to be heard at the Texas State Capitol. I wondered, “Would another Lincoln come into their own because of the voices lifted for literacy on his birthday?”

Returning from the Capitol, the glow of excitement announced their voices had not been quieted, nor silenced. As they prepared their lunches, it was as if they were fueling themselves to step out of the shadows of illiteracy and into the power of the written word.

I have heard it said that you may teach a man to fish or grow crops and he can feed his family; teach a woman to read and she can feed a village. Perhaps that’s the best gift on Lincoln’s birthday: to see the strength of many who are learning to read, mastering new trades, and earning prosperity for new generations of Texans.

Environmental Lobby Day
On Wednesday, February 18, the CLC participated with the Alliance for Clean Texas in their 2009 Lobby Day. The event was a success as dozens of Texans from all over the state came to Austin to advocate for economically and environmentally sound energy policy. The lobby day coincided with the Texas Energy Future conference (http://www.txenergyfuture.org/) which brought together industry representatives, activists and policy makers. The CLC will be working in cooperation with the Alliance for Clean Texas (http://www.acttexas.org/) during the legislative session on environmental legislation that makes good economic sense for the state including further investment in renewable energy sources and in programs that enhance energy efficiency saving Texans money and energy. The CLC will keep you informed as legislation is filed that needs your support.

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By Ken Camp, Managing Editor   
Published: February 05, 2009

AUSTIN—Environmental degradation presents the greatest danger to the most vulnerable people—particularly children and the elderly, a Houston pediatrician told the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission’s annual conference.

Scientists have reached consensus about the reality of global warming, and children especially will bear the brunt of its effects, said Susan Pacheco, a faculty member of the pediatrics department at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

Pacheco, who treats children who suffers from allergies and immune-deficiency disorders at the school’s clinic, noted children are more vulnerable than the general population to heat stress, air pollution, water-borne diseases and extreme weather events.
Heat-related deaths take a particularly heavy toll on the elderly population, while children especially suffer ill effects from air pollution, she said.

“Children are more susceptible to harm from ozone air pollution,” she said, due in part to the time they spend outdoors and in part because of their increased breathing rate relative to their body size.

“Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children,” she said, adding that air-borne irritants linked to vehicle traffic and other pollutants increase the risk. Also, as the overall global temperature has increased, it has resulted in a dramatic increase in pollen production, she explained.

Global warming already has begun to present greater risk to population centers in coastal areas, which tend to have a high percentage of the poor, the elderly and the very young, she said.
“The intensity of hurricanes is going to increase significantly. That’s a no-brainer,” Pacheco said. “It is primarily due to the increase in sea temperatures.”

That, in turn, presents greater risk of flooding and resultant diseases that are water-borne or spread by insects.

As a resident of a coastal city, Pacheco noted she and her family have learned how to secure their home against the elements and cope with the inconvenience of occasional power outages. But for the chronically poor in developing countries, those options are not available, she observed.

“We are people in a privileged position,” she said.

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09:03 AM CST on Monday, February 16, 2009
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News

PILOT POINT – The paddocks at Valor Farm look promising: Their stallions are virile, their mares’ bellies bulge with future racehorses. But the numbers tell a different story.

Valor’s thoroughbred breeders have lost almost 40 percent of their business in the last five years, even before the economy hit the skids. Their best customers are leaving for states with more lucrative horse races, states – unlike Texas – that allow slot machines at racetracks.

"I hate to think what will happen to us without them," says Valor Farm general manager Ken Carson, his eyes locked on two wobbly foals (future Derby winners?) nursing under their tail-swishing mothers. "With Texas racing purses going the wrong way, we’re losing a reputation and an industry."

The horse breeders are just one layer of a complicated and competitive web of gaming interests in Texas. All – the racetrack owners, the prospective casino investors, the Indian tribes – want to loosen Texas’ current gambling prohibition. All have different, and so far ineffective, strategies for doing it. But they’ve got two things in common: their persistence and their checkbooks.

In the last year alone, gambling interests have contributed a combined $1.7 million to Texas lawmakers, $1.3 million of it from the horseracing industry alone. And they’re hoping for a stacked deck – with a new House speaker from a racetrack family, a legislative committee that seems open to gambling initiatives, and an economic slump that could send lawmakers looking for new revenue.

"I think it’s breaking out that way, simply because of the economy," said Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, chairman of the House committee that oversees gambling issues. "We’ll consider it if we need to provide some additional revenue to the state of Texas – which it looks like we will. But of course it’s still going to be up to the will of the House."

But while gambling may get a closer look than in sessions past, supporters acknowledge it’s just as likely their efforts could fall short.

Foes ‘just as loud’

Speaker Joe Straus, whose father founded the Retama Park racetrack outside San Antonio, has formally recused himself from all gambling legislation. Top state leaders say economic conditions in Texas aren’t bad enough to consider expanded gaming, particularly while casinos across the country are struggling. And though the newly appointed members of the House committee that oversees gaming seem open to it – and have accepted a combined $100,000 in campaign contributions from gambling interests since 2007 – any bills still would have giant hurdles in the House and Senate.

"There’s a lot of positioning of the lobbyists around the Straus connection, and the gambling push is always harder at a time when there’s a deficit in state spending," said Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist General Convention’s Christian Life Commission. "But the voices are just as loud on the anti-gambling side."

The messages, five weeks into the legislative session, are the same as they’ve been for years. Top-dollar developers want to build resort-style casinos across the state by putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. Two Texas Indian reservations want to reopen casinos shuttered by the state in 2002, and a third wants to expand its limited gaming. And the horse and dog track operators, the thoroughbred breeders and, most recently, the Texas Farm Bureau want to allow slot machines at tracks, a move they say will save their foundering industry and bolster the struggling Texas Racing Commission.

Of these oft-aligned, oft-competing interests, the Indian reservations are the most persistent. They narrowly missed getting approval to reopen their casinos last session and have once again hired lobbyists they say they can’t afford. They’re a frequent presence at the Capital.

"It’s a sad sight right now," Carlos Bullock, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta tribal council, said of conditions on the East Texas reservation. "We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to help our local economy with jobs and employment."

Supporters of resort casinos – the longest shot for success this session – have a new card up their sleeves: the prospect of using them to save storm-wrecked Galveston. They also have the strongest opposition, not just from Christian conservatives who reject gambling but from major casino companies fearing more competition in a tight market.

Boyd Gaming Corp. and Isle of Capri, which both operate casinos in six states, have registered lobbyists in Texas, as do several other Las Vegas-based casino companies. So do the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma, which operate casinos over the Texas border but say their lobbying efforts are about far more than gaming.

Farm interests

The racing industry, meanwhile, seems the best organized – a stark contrast from previous sessions. The politically disparate racetrack operators, long prone to infighting, have set their differences aside, joining forces with the horse-breeding industry, the feed producers and the veterinarians to get slot machines on the ballot. They’re also enjoying the support of the Texas Farm Bureau, which says declining Texas racetracks are affecting everyone from hay producers to grain farmers.

"We’re better organized, better unified and better prepared this session than we’ve ever been," said Tommy Azopardi, president of Texans for Economic Development, which represents racetrack operators. "We’ve got an economy that is faltering, a legislative body faced with a budget shortfall. It’s just a more favorable climate."

Carson, the Valor Farm general manager, is keeping his fingers crossed. Right now, he’s got four regal racehorses siring 75 foals a year on this sprawling, 400-acre ranch. But since Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico started offering other gaming options at racetracks, their purses have swelled, and Texas’ have plummeted. The result: Louisiana-bred racehorses are selling for twice as much as those bred in Texas, and the number of licensed racehorse owners in Texas has dropped by more than 1,000 in the last year.

"So much of the news is bad," Carson says, his boots planted between sky-high stacks of sweet hay and alfalfa. If not for the doggedness of Valor Farm’s owners, "I’d already be on my way to Kentucky."


$1.7 million: Amount gambling interests contributed to Texas lawmakers in 2008

76: Percentage of these contributions that came from the horseracing industry

$100,000: Contributions gambling interests gave to Dallas-area lawmakers in 2008

$95,000: Contributions gambling interests gave in the last two years to lawmakers on the House committee that oversees gaming


Among gambling contributions to local lawmakers in the last year:

Sen. Chris Harris: $30,000

Rep. Allen Vaught: $21,000

Rep. Kirk England: $18,500

Sen. Royce West: $12,500

Rep. Roberto Alonzo: $12,000

Rep. Rafael Anchia: $2,000

Rep. Will Hartnett: $1,500

Sen. John Carona: $1,000

Rep. Jim Jackson: $500

Rep. Burt Solomons: $500

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Published Wed, Feb. 04, 2009.

AUSTIN — Legalizing slot machines at Texas racetracks would generate a multibillion-dollar windfall in Texas and would pave the way for a major expansion of the 13-year-old Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, horse-racing officials said Tuesday. 

A study released by Texans for Economic Development, an organization representing the horse-racing industry, projected a statewide economic boost of up to $6 billion and 53,000 new full-time jobs across all sectors of the economy, generating about $1 billion a year in tax revenue.

"It would help us tremendously," said Drew Shubeck, president of Lone Star Park. If the Legislature approves a slot machine bill, the park would start a $100 million construction project to build "new and more glamorous facilities" housing 2,500 to 3,500 video lottery terminals, he said.

"It would be a tremendous boom for the city of Grand Prairie and the Metroplex as a whole," Shubeck said. "We would definitely see an addition to the main grandstand or possibly a whole new stand-alone facility."

Texas racetracks are pushing to install slot machines to reverse an economic decline that has seen gambling dollars flow to neighboring states.

"We know for a fact that Texans are spending billions across the border, and we would like to recapture some of that money," said Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Texans for Economic Development.

Horse-racing interests hope that the potential benefits in tax revenue could help persuade cash-strapped lawmakers who are trying to find ways to fund existing services and possibly new initiatives. The Legislature has $9.1 billion less in available revenue than it did at the start of the 2007 session.

Gambling opponents have raised fears that advocates might have an edge during this session because the family of House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has ties to Retama Park, a San Antonio horse track. But Straus has said he will stay out of issues in which he or his family has business or personal interests.

Over the last 10 years, an estimated 50 percent of thoroughbreds and quarter horses in Texas have left the state because of declining purses. Billions of dollars in gambling and tourism money is also leaving the state as Texans go elsewhere to place their bets, industry officials say.

In 2007, according to the racing industry group’s study, Texans spent $2.8 billion on gaming and related activity in surrounding states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

About 40 percent of Louisiana’s gambling revenue in 2007 came from Texans, as did 22 percent of New Mexico’s, according to the report.

"We want all this to flourish in Texas," Shubeck said.

If slot machines were legalized at racetracks and American Indian casinos, the study suggests, Texas could reclaim $1.8 billion in revenue lost to other states, plus $1 billion in related spending. Economic ripple effects would generate an added $4 billion throughout the state, the report said.

But opponents say that gambling supporters cannot get the votes necessary to pass a bill legalizing casinos or slot machines.

"We don’t think they stand any more of a chance this session than the last," said Rob Kohler of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Plus, Gov. Rick Perry remains "opposed to expanding the footprint of gambling," said spokeswoman Allison Castle.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
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