Officials to Governor: Don’t Balance Budget on Indian Backs

By Rob Schmidt
January 28, 2003

PECHANGA INDIAN RESERVATION — At the Western Indian Gaming Conference Jan. 22, a parade of state officials sent some pointed messages to Governor Gray Davis. Namely, support California’s Indians. Don’t infringe on their sovereignty. Don’t balance the budget on their backs.

After Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro greeted attendees in the Luiseño language, State Controller Steve Westly was the first official to speak. Sounding like someone who might run for governor someday, Westly explained that the controller is the second most powerful job in the state. The controller sits on 57 boards and commissions and thus wields enormous power.

Calling Indian gaming an “economic development miracle,” Westly said he was sorry to read Time magazine’s report on the subject. He urged the audience to take the criticism in stride and not slow down. “Tell your own story or others will,” he said. “It’s better to be a participant than a victim.”

A founding executive of eBay before running for controller, Westly said he learned sovereignty from his brother’s Nez Perce wife. He also led the student body fight to eliminate the Stanford Indian mascot 25 years ago. “I hope to be a new generation of political leader,” he finished.

“Don’t Sell Sovereignty”

Bill Leonard, a former legislator now on the state Board of Equalization, kept his message short: “Don’t sell your sovereignty for a billion and a half dollars. In fact, don’t sell it at all.”

Leonard said he was counting on tribal leaders to educate the state about sovereignty. It’s incorrect to compare tribes to cities, he continued—to deem them sovereign unless the state overrules them. The correct comparison is state-to-state.

(California’s website at confirms how the state misperceives tribes. A page entitled “Local Government and California’s Tribes” equates tribal governments with city and county governments.)

Leonard pledged his agency would deal with tribes as one government to another. He also praised the tribes’ accomplishments. “I see in tribal leaders a spirit of enterprise and stewardship that I wish I saw in other government leaders.”

David Quintana, CNIGA’s legislative director and general counsel, offered a telling point on sovereignty. California’s governments have let developers build 50,000 houses right up to the Pechanga border, he said. “Did they ask Chairman Macarro how he felt?” No. So why are tribal governments the only ones expected to consider their neighbors’ feelings?

Legislators Chime In

Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego), chairwoman of the Housing and Community Development Committee, remarked that the state, unlike the tribes, is in big trouble. That may explain why Gov. Davis is turning to Indian gaming for help. “Your industry is the best we’ve got,” she said.

Too many people still don’t understand the relationship between tribes and the state, she told listeners. “It’s a treaty relationship”—not city-to-state, not quite state-to-state. Both sides are struggling to develop this relationship.

With the state facing social change and economic hard times, said Ducheny, it needs creative thinking. “Your governments have a lot to share for us to learn,” she concluded.

Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood), chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, said the United States once promised African Americans 40 acres and a mule. “We never got it,” he noted ruefully.

Horton also urged Indians to educate people about sovereignty. He related the story of the frog in boiling water, adding that “when it gets warm, it’s time to fight.”

“We won’t balance the budget on the backs of Indians,” said Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach). As chairwoman of the Budget Committee, she vowed to do everything in her power to protect California’s tribes.

“I think more highly of Indian gaming opportunities because it’s not just about profits,” maintained Oropeza. “It’s about self-reliance.”

Assemblyman Ed Chavez (D-La Puente), who chairs the Select Committee on California Indian Nations, also voiced support for the state’s tribes. He reminded everyone that the proposed $1.5 billion tax on Indian gaming was the governor’s idea, not the legislature’s.

Chairman Elaborates

At an impromptu briefing the next day, Chairman Macarro elaborated on the comments made previously.

The tribes have a lot of options, he said. If Gray Davis won’t negotiate fairly, he wouldn’t rule out a return to the ballot box. “Voters support Indian gaming on Indian lands.”

Chairman Macarro decried comparisons of Davis’s proposal to the 25% take from Connecticut’s gaming tribes. For one thing, that take is capped at $400 million. For another, California’s 53 gaming tribes are far more disparate than the two in Connecticut.

He speculated that Davis had a $1.5 billion budget gap to fill and thus hit tribes for that amount. “We all know how much Gov. Davis likes pie charts,” he said. The number is too even to explain otherwise.

Davis talks about tribes helping the state, noted Macarro—doing their fair share. But when Pechanga was poor, California didn’t help his people. Indians have to wonder why “sharing” is a one-way street.

© 2003 Pechanga.Net