Readers and bettors won’t be surprised that Kentucky is a reliably conservative state. However, they may be surprised that it elected a Democratic Governor. Kentucky has a quirky history of voting for Republican presidents but voting Democrat in state and local races. The last Governor also blamed teachers for sexual violence against children during a teacher’s walkout. Losing the teachers is a death sentence in Kentucky, so whoever ran against him had a major advantage. (Apparently, that advantage translates to winning by a margin of 5,000 votes.)
At the beginning of the year, Kentucky’s Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, presented his 2021 budget. It contains his vision for Kentucky’s next year and it’s a chance to present some policy ideas. One of those policy ideas is sports betting. But he only mentioned it once toward the end of his speech. It’s a small mention.
However, he had to do a lot of heavy lifting to bring sports betting up. He saved his most controversial and forward-thinking ideas until the speech’s end. Alongside sports betting, Governor Beshear pitched horse racing and legalizing medical marijuana. Here are the tricks he used to pitch sports betting to a constituency that includes strong opponents to it.
The Speech’s Structure
Governor Beshear’s 2021 Budget Address is 10 pages. Sports betting doesn’t get its mention until page eight. So, Governor Beshear spent most of the speech on non-controversial material. He slipped his controversial ideas in at the end, then finished with his most soaring rhetoric. (As soaring as a Kentucky budget speech can get, anyway.) But he uses specific speech techniques to take the edge off gambling and pot.
He began his speech with a two-part introduction. The first part was thank you’s and some opening remarks about COVID-19. The second was a call for a moment of silence and prayer for those lost to the pandemic. Since the goal of his budget was to set Kentucky up for success after the pandemic, it was appropriate to cover both.
He goes on to describe COVID-19’s impact on Kentucky, its families, and the economy. There are a few tricks he uses to drive the horrors of COVID-19 home. But once he’s done with that, he gets to the “three pillars” of his budget: Small business relief, financial relief for families, and long-term investments. Sports betting is at the end of the long-term investment section. Finally, Governor Beshear ends with a call to action from Abraham Lincoln and Proverbs–classic Southern Democrat politics.
But the structure isn’t what gives the speech its ‘oomph.’ The rhetorical tricks Governor Beshear uses do.
The Tricks That Lead Up To And Follow Sports Betting
Every political speech–liberal or conservative–uses the same rhetorical tricks. We’re not going to list out every single one here. (No one wants to read extensively about antithesis.) But anyone who wants the full list can read The Political Speechwriter’s Companion by Robert A. Lehrman and Eric Schnure. We’ll just cover the ones Governor Beshear uses the most to lead up to and lead away from sports betting.
Political Heroes And Biblical Quotes
Political giants abound on both sides of the aisle, whether it’s Ronald Reagan or JFK. Both sides of the aisle also use biblical quotes to appeal to voter bases that purport to be Christian. (Given the cultural value placed on faith, I suspect that people overreport faith and underreport non-belief to pollsters.) But stirring quotes are great calls to action. Governor Beshear quoted Abraham Lincoln and the Bible in his introduction and his closer. They called Kentucky to action and offered refuge to grieving citizens.
Governor Beshear quotes a passage from one of Abraham Lincoln’s legislative addresses in 1862:
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Governor Beshear goes on to tell Kentucky to “rise to our occasion.” Quotes are basic tools, but they can lend bold policies authority when modern arguments aren’t quite enough.
While carefully integrating a quote can create a stirring moment, litany creates the roaring applause moment that characterizes great speeches. Litany is a simple rhetorical trick. But it’s easy to do poorly.
A litany is either starting or ending a series of sentences with the same word or set of words. Repetition builds power in speeches in a way that it doesn’t in writing. It can give an otherwise bland speech a powerful moment. Here’s one of Governor Beshear’s stronger litanies:
“You followed the guidance. You made the hard decisions to forego holiday get-togethers. You postponed weddings and vacations. You missed funerals. You supported hard-hit local restaurants by ordering carry-out and curbside. And you lit your home up green every night to show compassion.”
He stumbled a little at the end. Five litanies is a good number, but breaking it with ‘and’ reduces some of the power it would’ve had otherwise. It’s also missing a clincher – a final powerful statement that the litany could’ve led up to. He could’ve ended with something folksy like “you did Kentucky proud.” It would’ve ended the list, fit with his Team Kentucky and Better Kentucky Budget themes, and given the litany a clear applause line.
But reading it out loud makes it easier to understand how this can well emotions up. And it makes more sense why Governor Beshear quickly dives into a litany after he mentions sports betting, horse racing, and medical marijuana.
Anecdotes are vital to political speeches because they make abstract problems concrete. If a politician opposes war, he can find a moving story about service members or civilians to illustrate why we shouldn’t go to war. If a politician favors war, he can find a story about a terrorist plotting against the United States or about civilian life to make the case to intervene. (Notice how the same type of story can be used to advocate and oppose an issue.) Strategic anecdotes give the audience better reasons to recognize a problem or embrace a solution.
Here’s an anecdote Governor Beshear uses in his introduction:
“One Kentucky family in Hopkins County suffered an unbearable loss in April when a wife and a husband, Frida and Doug Woods, died of COVID-19 in the space of just two days. And in Campbellsville, I think about the Cheatham family, who lost both parents and their grandfather in less than a month.”
Governor Beshear used these two families to show the audience what the impact of COVID-19 was on Kentucky. It gave clear reasons why combating COVID-19 was so important to Kentucky citizens. (And no, that’s not self-explanatory.)
Sports Betting In The Governor’s Budget Address
So, we’ve seen the techniques that surround Governor Beshear’s sports betting mention. Here’s how he worked those techniques to fit sports betting into the Budget Address.
As we mentioned earlier, Governor Beshear listed three pillars of his budget. The third pillar was long-term investments. After invoking the Civil War and World War II, he called for:
- $100 million in school infrastructure
- Broadband and telehealth expansion
- Transportation budget expansion
Finally, he made it to the innovation and entrepreneurship section. This set him up to support new industries, even if some constituents found them controversial. He began with an anecdote about Jonathan Webb and his work with AppHarvest. AppHarvest is an AgTech and investment company. Governor Beshear then mentioned his own commitment to funding emerging industries.
Then he told his audience that he would focus his cabinet members on “[identifying] ways to modernize.”
Finally, he made it to sports betting.
The Sports Betting Mention
“And speaking of laws that unduly restrict us from growth and innovation, it is time to legalize medical marijuana, pass sports betting, and save historic horse racing.”
There it is. All the buildup from the previous eight and a half pages came to that. His most controversial policy ideas in one quick wrap-up. The Governor didn’t hide his policy ideas, but he didn’t let his audience linger on them either. He quickly launched into his conclusion likely to keep opponents from lingering on his most controversial ideas.
After a few summary statements, Governor Beshear began his speech’s second-best litany:
“We should all support relief for our small businesses. We should all support building better schools. We should all support affordable college, raises for our educators, and creating more good-paying jobs. We should all support broadband to move us forward. And we all know the unemployment system has been cut to the bone and must improve to help our workers when they need it the most.”
Well, he abandoned the litany at the end. He had a good rhythm until another ‘and’ interrupted it. But he had a better clincher to wrap the litany up.
“Folks, we can be fiscally responsible, help our people, and invest in our future all at the same time.”
After a Lincoln quote, a verse from Proverbs, and a few God blesses, Governor Beshear finished.
Sports Betting’s Dual Role In Kentucky
Governor Beshear presented sports betting, among other issues, as two things. They were not only solutions to the coronavirus’s economic problems. But they were also keys to Kentucky’s economic future. As a Democrat, Governor Beshear had reliable support from his party. So, he included plenty of small business, innovation, and regulation-cutting messaging throughout his address. Despite some sloppy execution of some of the rhetorical tricks we covered, structurally and strategically, it was a solid speech.
Since becoming an answer to coronavirus and an innovative step for Kentucky business, sports betting legislation made swift progress, then stopped. It made it through the committee, but it won’t go to the Senate. The split within the Republican party is keeping the bill from passing. Kentucky’s Republican leadership won’t pass it without more support from its House members. Religious conservatives split from the free enterprise conservatives and are withholding the votes to move sports betting forward. Unless someone has a change of heart, Kentucky sports betting may remain limited to brief mentions in infrequent speeches.