By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Another complication is that at least some of the casino-tribe forces ostensibly interested in what Schwarzenegger is proposing probably have another agenda. Anthony Pico, chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, says the Viejas are interested in the Schwarzenegger proposal and have not backed the Agua Caliente initiative. But the truth is that Pico first proposed the Agua Caliente position himself last year, when he and the Viejas put millions into Cruz Bustamante’s campaign. The Agua Caliente proposal is what Bustamante’s position became. So a victory for that initiative would be a victory for the Bustamante stance on Indian casinos, a bitter pill for Schwarzenegger, who buried Bustamante in last fall’s election.
Pico justifies at great length, and with a great sense of aggrievedness, all the actions of Indian casinos by referencing the tragic history of the American Indian. He claims the backlash against Indian casinos is not because they have become the biggest-spending interest in California politics — over $130 million since the late 1990s — but because of ongoing racism. Pressed on the question of whether or not another entity expanding gambling around the state and intervening massively in state politics would also engender major concern, he repeatedly declined to answer, finally dropping an object from his hand with a loud thump and saying, “My ancestors are telling me not to answer that.”
Overlaid on top of all this is the likely major expansion of gambling in California under all three scenarios, the two initiatives and the Schwarzenegger deal, the prospect of which went mostly undiscussed during the recall. Indeed, Schwarzenegger at first sounded like he opposed at least the geographic expansion of Indian casinos, a view he expressed when discussing the subject with me.
Candidate Arnold said that he favored some expansion of Indian gambling, but on existing sites. “They can expand gaming activity, but we don’t want it all over the place,” he said. Governor Arnold is holding his cards very close to the vest now as his negotiators do their work, but sources say that geographic expansion of Indian gambling is very much on the table as part of a sweetener for state revenue from the tribes.
Schwarzenegger’s decision last year to go to war with Indian gambling interests was fateful and controversial within his campaign. After a week of internal debate, Schwarzenegger made the call to go after the interests, which he had previously called “gaming tribes” and now called “casino tribes,” a much tougher phrase. They must pay “their fair share,” he intoned in commercials and speeches up and down the state. The strategy worked, helping delegitimize the heavy tribal spending against him and devastating the casino tribe–funded campaign of Bustamante, who had been locked in a close race with the action superstar. The success of the strategy created the widespread impression that gambling would be under control in California. Now it is on the verge of exploding.
Schwarzenegger was at first helped in negotiations with Indian casinos by his encouragement of initiative politics, as the existence of the racetrack–card room initiative recommended by his own advisers gave his negotiators important leverage. “The stick,” as the governor calls it. But the advent of the Agua Caliente initiative has altered the equation, with tribes seeing that a winning initiative campaign can save them money.
Raising money to defeat either initiative on what looks to be a cluttered November ballot would not be a simple matter for Schwarzenegger, whose own campaign last year ended up requiring him to spend twice as much of his own money — $10 million — as he had hoped. Businesses and wealthy individuals had a much greater stake in electing Schwarzenegger, and in stabilizing state finances and reforming workers’ compensation, than they did in defeating the expansion of another business.
Both sides are echoing Schwarzenegger’s “fair share” rhetoric. The racetrack–card room initiative campaign is called A Fair Share for California. The casino-tribes initiative campaign, first called the Truth on Cardrooms Committee and Californians for Tribal Rights, is now called Citizens for a Fair Share of Indian Gaming Revenues. Unless the governor’s negotiations with the tribes succeed, that rhetoric may be all that remains of his position of last fall in the campaign this fall.