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Carlson: Tribal gaming questions

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Before venturing into this subject let me make three things clear:

1) Personally I am opposed to all forms of gambling, whether tribal, state endorsed or publicly traded business firms. It is horrible social policy and illogical tax policy to generate revenues by taking money from folks who almost always cannot afford to lose what they fritter away. States should not be running lotteries nor sanctioning betting whether on horses, dogs or sporting events.

2) The “giving back” spirit of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, as well as the Nez Perce and the Kalispell’s, is commendable. That there are unanswered questions is not meant to impugn motives or demean their civic mindedness or their significant job-generation in north Idaho’s economy.

3) The Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs firm I co-founded in 1989 (two of its five offices are in Spokane and Boise) performed limited work for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe three times in the last 10 years. I have neither financial interest in nor any ties to Gallatin since retiring several years ago. While a senior partner I participated in the firm hiring Heather Keen, who just recently became the Coeur d’Alene Tribal communications director.

Late last month readers of The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press may have seen full page ads taken out by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe claiming they had kept the promise made to voters in 1992 to give back 5 percent of the annual gaming net revenues to the support of education.

Yes and No. Yes, they have contributed $17 million by their account but it is misleading to say it all falls under the rubric of education. It stretches credulity to see where funds donated to the Kroc Center or to Mark Few’s Coaches vs. Cancer annual fund drive complies with initiative language that pledged the 5 percent would go to support education in surrounding school districts. Money listed for Gonzaga, for example, includes the annual payment for the tribe’s private box at McCarthy Arena.

One has to know the background. Scrutiny of the tribal pledge by both the Coeur d’Alene Press and the St. Maries Gazette-Record earlier in 2011 led to stories that raised legitimate doubts as to whether the tribe had kept to its pledge. Other issues came to the forefront as these papers continued to investigate the matter.

Most of these questions remain unanswered and still merit answering. Among them are:

1. Is the state of Idaho as represented by the Lottery Commission’s executive director really exercising a monitoring role as envisioned by the initiative? Or, as appears to the case just taking the tribe’s word it is in compliance?

2. Why, after first claiming it had no obligation to open its books, did the Coeur d’Alene Tribe provide the Spokesman exclusive access to their contribution records in an effort to convince the public they had kept their pledge? And why did the Spokesman take as gospel a list of all charitable contributions being a legitimate fulfillment of the pledge to donate to educational programs and districts in the surrounding area?

3. The Spokesman has long championed full disclosure of governmental records and strongly supported the public’s right to know as trumping all other interests. Why in this instance do they appear to be supporting a tribal claim to be able to withhold information regarding gaming proceeds?

4. Why should the public or the media take the tribe’s word on the 5 percent return absent a verification by an outside independent auditing firm of just what each year’s annual net revenues are? Trust but verify President Reagan once said. Where’s the outside, independent verification?

5. Does a tribe’s gaming compact with a Governor trump state law whether passed by a Legislature or by the voters through an initiative process? This question is relevant because the Sho-Bans in southern Idaho make no pretense of giving back 5 percent as mandated by the voter initiative. They claim their compact with the state, which makes no mention of a 5 percent return, takes precedence. Does it? Should it?

Questions and issues like these will persist as long as the media and others blindly buy into the partially false claim Tribes always make regarding their alleged “sovereign nation” status. The correct term as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court is “quasi-sovereign.” Historical fact and judicial precedence have made clear that Tribe treaties are still subject to Congressional plenary authority, which means Congress could if it wanted extinguish every single treaty.

Likewise, the Supreme Court made clear in a 6-2 ruling in 1978 in the case of Oliphant v.Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribes have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. The bottom line is we are all, non-Native Americans as well as Native Americans, citizens of the United States first, and citizens of a state second, and the laws of the United States and the laws of a state should apply equally to all across the board.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andurs. He lives at Medimont.

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