Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
12:16 AM PDT on Friday, September 9, 2005
By JIM MILLER / Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO -- In a vivid display of their Capitol influence, several wealthy Inland tribes with casinos Thursday blocked for the year gaming compacts negotiated by the Schwarzenegger administration.
The Inland tribes, which want to renegotiate a 2,000-per-tribe slot-machine cap included in their 1999 compacts, contended that the new deals set an unacceptable precedent of concessions to the state. They fear the governor's office will press them into similar deals.
The events bode ominously for new gaming compacts the Schwarzenegger administration is expected to announce today. Those deals also have to be ratified by the Legislature.
Of the compacts blocked Thursday, one would have allowed the Yurok Tribe — the largest and among the poorest tribes in the state — to open a casino on its reservation along the Oregon border.
The other compact would have permitted the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation to install more slot machines in a casino on its reservation in the southeastern corner of Imperial County.
The deals would earn the state $7 million annually, the governor's office estimated.
But in recent days, Inland tribes — including the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near Highland and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs — sent lawmakers strongly worded letters opposing the compacts. The tribes' lobbyists and leaders worked the Capitol.
The tribes complained that the governor's office took advantage of the Yurok and Quechan tribes. The pacts force the tribes to share too much slot-machine revenue with the state, give local governments too much say over tribal decision-making, and give unions excessive power to organize casino workers, among other objections.
"The state should respect the competence and integrity of tribal governments, rather than seizing on tribal needs for economic self-sufficiency as a coercive means to erode tribal sovereignty in all areas," said a letter by Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Maurice Lyons. The tribe operates a casino near Banning.
As time wound down on the Legislature's final work day of 2005, officials said the compacts would not be considered for ratification until January at the earliest.
"To me, they're a bunch of cheap-shot artists," Quechan president Mike Jackson Sr. said Thursday of Inland tribal leaders. "Our people have dealt in good faith. To oppose us, without a good reason, that's a cowardly act."
The Yurok tribe has tried to get a compact since voters legalized Las Vegas-style gaming on tribal reservations six years ago. The tribe has more than 4,800 members, some of whom live in homes that lack electricity and running water, leaders said.
"We're very disappointed and saddened that the Yurok tribe, which has a tremendous need for infrastructure and development, has been told that our people have to wait," said Troy Fletcher, the tribe's interim executive director.
Schwarzenegger came into office in 2003 promising to get a "fair share" of tribal gaming revenue for the state. Last summer, the Legislature ratified several new and modified compacts negotiated by the governor.
GOP Suspects 'Template'
But Republican lawmakers have warned that they would oppose future agreements if they included labor, local government or other provisions they objected to.
Thursday, state Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta, said the Yurok and Quechan compacts showed a pattern.
"It's real clear they (the compacts) were being used as a template," Battin said.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, said she opposes the compacts for the same reason. Her district includes Imperial County, home of the Quechan tribe.
"It's my job to vet it out. That's the responsibility of being here," Garcia said.
Jackson criticized Garcia for opposing the tribe's compact. "We'll return that favor in the future," he said.
State Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, who represents Imperial County in the Senate, carried the legislation to ratify the Quechan compact.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Vince Sollitto said Inland tribes are trying to use their clout in the Legislature to put a freeze on new gaming agreements.
"It's no secret that wealthy tribes with compacts that this governor feels are deficient for the state of California oppose his efforts to get a fair deal in new negotiations and don't want to see any of those better agreements for California ratified," Sollitto said.
This article overstates the power of California's gaming tribes. They may have "flexed their muscles," but a group of legislators blocked the compacts, not the tribes.
Presumably these legislators acted for a sound reason: because the prospective compacts would've risked the sovereign rights of every California tribe. Legislators who support Indian rights could've come to the same conclusion whether the tribes lobbied them or not.
If tribes can force the Legislature to do whatever they want, then why have they had so much trouble passing legislation to protect sacred sites or ban Indian mascots? Answer: They can't force the Legislature to do whatever they want, obviously. Saying they can is stereotypical.
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