State Sen. Ron Caldwell, chair of the Senate State Agencies Committee, has written Johnson County officials to pour cold water on the idea of the legislature coming up with a way for Johnson County to have a new casino if Pope County doesn’t want it.

Amendment 100 authorized new casinos in Jefferson and Pope Counties. Pope County residents have signaled opposition in a couple of votes, as have key local and county officials. Efforts continue, nonetheless, by Cherokee, which financed a significant part of the amendment campaign, and Mississippi casino interests to persuade Pope County of the benefits of a casino. Into this mix came Johnson County, with a proposal that the legislature change terms of the constitutional amendment to replace Pope with Johnson. Opinions differ on whether the legislature has the power to change this particular amendment, even with a two-thirds vote.

Senator Caldwell happens to share my view. No can do.

He said he believed only voters could amend the Constitution and the Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld that view. Key paragraph of his letter to County Judge Herman Houston:

He said Johnson County was welcome to introduce a bill and bring it before his committee where it would receive a fair hearing. But he closed, “I do not see at this time that there is any appetite to opening the door to creating the power for the legislature to amend the Constitution over the will of the people.”

His full letter here.

I confirmed that the Cherokee Nation remains interested in Pope County. Its business arm issued a statement on Caldwell’s letter:

“We appreciate and understand why leaders from Johnson County want to bring a proven economic engine such as a casino to their community. However, we believe Amendment 100 was clear in its intention to offer new licenses in Pope and Jefferson Counties only. We have expressed our interest in working collaboratively with residents of Pope County. Should Pope County decide to pursue the development of a casino, we believe Cherokee Nation Entertainment offers the most compelling and beneficial proposal and look forward to sharing our plans in the near future.” – Shawn Slaton, CEO, Cherokee Nation Businesses