Hewitt's effort to bring back horse racing is the right move

The horse races are a big part of community events in Southeastern Washington.

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Sure, Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt is doing a bit of home cookin' with his effort to push through legislation to restore spring horse racing in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton, but that's his job.

Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is not just the minority leader, but Southeastern Washington's representative in the Senate.

The annual spring horse races in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton are far more than an opportunity to bet on horses, they are an important part of community celebrations.

The races have been canceled for this year. The Washington Horse Racing Commission, citing a lack of funds generated by a tax on wagering, denied Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton race dates.

The fourth track in Eastern Washington - Sun Downs in Kennewick - will be allowed six racing dates rather than its usual 10.

Hewitt is the prime sponsor of legislation aimed at allowing the spring horse races to resume next year. Hewitt has support from two Democrats, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle and Sen. Steve Conway of Tacoma, who signed on as co-sponors.

The Legislation, Senate Bill 5747, was approved in the Senate 46-2 and is now making its way through the House. The measure mandates the Horse Racing Commission give higher priority to funding nonprofit race meets and allow private contributions to be accepted to fund the events.

"This bill will help a number of communities in Eastern Washington whose nonprofit horse-racing events depend on this bill passing," Hewitt said. "The goal is to raise private dollars and support these events that have a real economic impact in our communities."

Exactly. The races are at the center of Waitsburg's Days of Real Sport and Dayton Days.

Last month Melissa Hansen, race manager and treasurer for Dayton Days, talked to U-B reporter Carrie Chicken about what the annual horse race means to the community. Hanson said she talked to some Dayton business owners about the impact of the three-day weekend on their businesses. One grocery store owner told her during Dayton Days weekend the store's business was bigger than the entire month of September.

Dayton Days is held over the Memorial Day weekend. The Columbia County Fair Board will manage the Dayton Days event this year. While there will be no horse racing, the event will include the traditional rodeo, a parade and entertainment. This year is the 93rd year for the event.

In Waitsburg, the Days of Real Sport - held annually since 1913 - will be reduced in scope if it takes place.

It's unfortunate the races have been lost for this year, but Hewitt made the right move in taking action to restoring them in 2012.

These community horse races are big events in Southeastern Washington. Let's hope the House follows the Senate's lead and makes the changes necessary to bring the spring races back.

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