In last week’s article titled “The Smoking Gun in the Slaying of Kentucky’s Signature Industry,” I wrote: “In my research, I can find no other case of where a state government worked against the economic interests of its signature industry” (in Kentucky, by blocking the legalization of video lottery terminals at racetracks). This raises the question of why a “logically thinking” governor or legislator would willfully weaken a legal industry like horse racing and breeding that provides lots of employment, plenty of tax revenues, a steady stream of tourist dollars, entertainment, and international visibility for the Commonwealth on the Kentucky Derby telecast. The economic benefits would seem to far outweigh the objections, especially in a time when states have high unemployment rates and the money to fund programs is hard to come by.

Politics is, of course, an inherently divisive business. Even George Washington was vilified by some critics while he was commanding general of the colonial army and as the nation’s first president. A certain amount of nastiness goes hand and glove with politics. A definition of a friend in Washington, D. C. public life is “Someone who stabs you in the chest.”

In my years of teaching sales negotiation and engaging in it myself in private dealings, I have found that most business people involved in transactions focus on facts and possible solutions, and on trying to find common ground. If someone like this is on the other side of the negotiating table and has an opinion or a position different from mine, I respect them even though I see things differently. This kind of negotiator does not use inflammatory ad hominem rhetoric and can often be appealed to with hard evidence and on commonsense grounds. On the other hand, there are occasionally destructive types who usually cannot be reasoned with no matter the proof; they are apt to irrationally torpedo a negotiation that would benefit both parties, for reasons known only to themselves. They might even offer a red herring as a rationale for blowing up the negotiations. The old-line Soviet Union leaders were partial to this tack.

A vintage fable about a turtle (or frog) and a scorpion conveys that in business–or any other endeavor–you should not take it for granted that someone will always act rationally and logically in his or her best interests, or in the best interests of the people or organization being represented.

A potentially lethal bark scorpion needs to cross a river but scorpions cannot swim, so he asks a turtle for a ride, even offering to pay him. The turtle is very wary: “If you sting me while I am swimming across, you will kill me.” The scorpion replies: “I won’t do that because I can’t swim and I would drown if I murder you.” The turtle, persuaded by the scorpion’s seemingly iron-clad reasoning, agrees to the task. Half way across the river, the venomous scorpion stings the turtle and they both begin to sink to their deaths. The perplexed and mortally poisoned turtle says: “Why did you do that, now you will die too?” The scorpion matter-of-factly comments, “It isn’t about logic, it is just my nature.”

In trying to make sense of those elected officials in Kentucky working to eviscerate the state’s signature industry, remember that some of them are sincere in their reasons for being against racetrack slots and are willing to articulate their honest objections. Respect them and agree to disagree. But also remember that a few folks working against slots are scorpions. With them it has nothing to do with logic and reason, it is just their character.

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