The state Senate returns to Raleigh this morning to calls by North Carolina Democrats to approve a lottery, prayers by Christian groups to block a lottery and a bit of intrigue over three senators who might determine its fate by not showing up.
An effort to bring a lottery to North Carolina has been approved by the state House. But it has been stymied for weeks in the Senate, where it appeared close to dead when the Senate took a six-day recess last week -- with 24 senators in favor of a lottery and 26 opposed. Senate leaders said then that they were finished with any significant work for the year.
But Senate Democratic leader Marc Basnight called the senators back to town today, prompting speculation that he might take another run at the lottery.
That speculation was heightened by talk that three senators who oppose a lottery could be absent when the Senate convenes this morning -- Republican Sens. Harry Brown of Jacksonville and John Garwood of North Wilkesboro and Democrat Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte.
Sen. Phil Berger, the Senate Republican leader and the lottery opposition leader, scurried Monday to find the missing senators and get them to Raleigh. But he said he had been unable to find Brown, 50, a Jacksonville car dealer.
Calls to Brown's home were greeted with this recorded message from his wife, Lisa: "When Harry and I got married in April, I had to share him with the General Assembly. Now he's home from Raleigh, he has taken me on my honeymoon. See you next week."
GOP leaders did track down Garwood, 73, a retired insurance agent and real estate broker.
But Garwood, who was hospitalized while in Raleigh last week with a staph infection in his leg, said he had a doctor's written excuse and instructions to keep his leg elevated. Garwood, who was not too happy to get a call from a reporter, said he would not return to Raleigh.
"This is the 50th call I've had," an exasperated Garwood told a reporter late Monday afternoon. "I'm about worn out."
Clodfelter, 55, a Charlotte lawyer, asked the Senate clerk's office for an excused absence for Tuesday, although he indicated he might make part of the session. Clodfelter did not return a reporter's call Monday.
The lottery bill has been strongly supported by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and the leadership of the Democratic-controlled legislature. But it has been stopped by solid opposition from Republican senators and five Democratic senators, including Clodfelter.
If all three lottery opponents are absent -- and all other senators are present -- the lottery bill could pass the Senate 24-23. If two senators are absent, it would result in a 23-23 tie, which Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue has said she would break by voting for the lottery.
But the vote is complicated by a parliamentary maneuver that could be used -- a traditional Senate courtesy in which an absent senator pairs his vote with a present senator on the other side of the issue. The two senators cancel each other's vote.
Such pairings are voluntary. Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said the Democratic leadership would not try to dissuade Democratic senators supporting the lottery from pairing with absent senators who opposed it.
But that might not happen anyway. Garwood said he does not plan to pair his vote. Brown has not asked for an excused absence, which is necessary for someone to be eligible to pair a vote.
An uneasy leader
Berger, the Republican anti-lottery leader, seemed ill at ease Monday.
"I'd feel better if we knew for sure everyone will be there in their places," Berger said. "We will do everything we can to work on it."
Bob Rosser, a consultant for N.C. Citizens United Against the Lottery, said Basnight should not schedule a vote because he had strongly indicated last week that no lottery vote would be considered until next year.
"They said they were coming back for the adjournment resolution," Rosser said. "I hope they will do the honorable thing and hold to that."
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Executive Committee, meeting in Greensboro over the weekend, passed a resolution supporting a referendum on a state lottery, "the proceeds from which would be dedicated to public education without diminution of state funding for the same." The bill being considered by the Senate would create a lottery without a referendum.
The state Republican Party opposes the lottery.
The Christian Action League, which represents 17 denominations, was asking pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons and other Christians across the state to pray to stop the lottery.
"This is a call for all citizen Christians in North Carolina to let their prayers ascend to heaven for the defeat of a state-operated lottery," the group said on its Web page. "Pray N.C. Senate members against the lottery would remain firm in their opposition. Pray that God would even be so gracious as to put more lawmakers in the 'No' column.
"Pray that all the shenanigans by lottery proponents would utterly fail."
Staff writer Rob Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or email@example.com.