02/25/2017 4:04PM

Gisser: Thoughts on the USTA Presidential election

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Derick Giwner
Jason Settlemoir is one of five candidates running for USTA President. The election will be held Monday in Las Vegas.

I don’t know who will win the election to be U.S. Trotting Association President. I do know that whichever candidate does win, he will not issue an Executive Order banning Australian or New Zealand pacers or French Trotters from entering the Unites States. I am also sure that we will not have one candidate win the popular vote and another win the Electoral vote. That’s because there is no popular vote. This one goes directly to the Electoral College, err, Board of Directors. I am also sure the new Commander in Chief will do a lot of things right, a few things wrong, and no matter what choices he makes, he will alienate a portion of our industry.

That is because, despite having five well-qualified candidates, many of the USTA’s Directors have more interest in regional issues than in National ones. And, to be honest, the President of the United States Trotting Association is less like a Reagan or a Clinton and more like a Gorbachev. Just like the Soviet Union after the collapse, harness racing here is more like the Commonwealth of Independent States than the United States. Is it a coincidence that there are 11 members of the CIS (originally 12) and 12 US states that host pari-mutuel harness racing (which might as well be 11 with the limited schedule in a couple of them)? Maybe not.

The USTA is not a rule-making body. It is registry that is trying to evolve into a marketing organization. It can suggest rules, but cannot mandate. And while that is a problem for another column, let’s be realistic. A switch to unified racing and medication rules with a strong National Racing Czar would be far stronger than what we have now and would help our sport. But we do not have that, and that means that whoever wins, they will face some problems that few other sports need to deal with.

I will say there has been no “fake news” when it comes to the fearless five -- Freddie Hudson, Ryan Macedonio, Joe Pennacchio, Jason Settlemoir and Russell Williams – who wish to lead our sport. Each brings his own personal experience and positions on the issues, and in my opinion, any of them could do the job quite well, although each would do it quite differently. This election has received plenty of media coverage. The debate on Post Time with Mike and Mike may have been the most dynamic piece of harness broadcasting since Amy Hollar appeared on candidate Macedonio’s TrotCast show. Well done by the hosts and well done by the candidates.

Perhaps for the first time ever, no Director can claim they do not know where the candidates stand on the issues. Any Director who does is simply not paying attention, but again, we have that regional bias and that will create a problem. We have 65 Directors and ALL of them are elected by District. You can see the list at http://www.ustrotting.com/directors.cfm. While I appreciate their willingness to serve, that creates a problem for our sport and only continues the provincialism that handcuffs us. In order for our sport to move forward, not only does it need to elect a dynamic new President with ideas for the future (again, I believe all five candidates fit that bill, although I do not agree with all that any of them say), but the U.S.T.A. needs to start electing At-Large Directors.

Take a look at the list. Whether you like it or not, an argument can be made for the Electoral College. But how does Pennsylvania (District 7), with three major tracks, have just four Directors, while Illinois (District 5), with one track, has five?  I understand that many states have fair racing at that weighs into the equation, and that membership is a factor. But if you look at the big picture, it is the lack of balance that is glaring. And 65 Directors? Isn’t that a bit unwieldly? They say a camel is just a horse designed by a committee and my dad told me at my Bar Mitzvah that you can’t get three Jews to agree on anything. I have no idea what religion any of the Directors are and it doesn’t matter, I am just trying to make a point. My guess is they would not agree on a favorite beer brand or wine label, let alone a on a suitable dose of Lasix or appropriate stakes detention time.

I would love to see that 65 (although the current list at ustrotting.com lists just 60) member board reduced to 40 or fewer. Let’s elect two Directors from each of the twelve districts and 16 at-large Directors. While they may still have their own local biases, they would have to look at the bigger National picture in order to maintain their seat with the electorate. Currently, the Directors are voted on by the USTA membership in their respective Districts. If we added At-Large Directors, the entire USTA membership could vote to select them. And less is more, although I don’t see it happening. So I will concede the current 65 member board. Let’s elect four Directors from each District (I would prefer three, but again, we run local fiefdoms in this sport). That gives us 17 At-Large Directors. Still unwieldly, but at least we get a larger view of our sport in the board room.

That’s all for this month. I know who I am betting on to win the election, but it is a secret ballot and I could not find a Vegas line, so I won’t cash on that choice. I hope you do. See you next month!