September 17, 2014 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on Senate Bill 2670 introduced by Senators McCain and Flake. I have offered the direct testimonies of the panelists, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn; Governor of the Gila River Indian Community Gregory Mendoza; Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers; Glendale Councilmember Gary Sherwood and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. Each of the panelists was asked questions by Senators McCain and Tester.
I have never heard so many non-responsive answers in my life. It’s as if the questioner and the person answering were on parallel universes. Isn’t that the mark of a true politician? If so, they all passed the test. The only person to answer a question directly was the Attorney for the Gila River Indian Community, Allison Benney (my apology if I have slaughtered her name).
Sherwood, in his answers to Senators McCain and Tester, pumps out a great deal of misinformation. His reference to one 30 minute conversation between Glendale staff and the TO…wrong. His estimate of jobs created…wrong. There was one very telling revelation however. The city’s position on the referendum petitions submitted in opposition to the TO/Glendale Settlement Agreement et. al., relies exclusively on the argument that council votes were administrative not legislative. Gary Sherwood, went off script (which he does quite frequently). At the 43 minute, 46 second mark of the hearing he refers to the council votes as legislation (in a convoluted way). In his mind, he recognized that those council votes were legislative… Oh Oh. I hope the attorneys take note.
I also stand corrected on the amount of annual revenue the Tohono O’odham (TO) earn from their 3 casinos. I had used $38 million. Well, you can nearly double that. The figure that Senator McCain used was $68.2 million. No matter the number…no matter whether that is net revenue or gross revenue that is still a lot of money. Again, what have the TO been spending all of that revenue on? Too bad no one is allowed to audit their books…they are a sovereign nation, you know.
Chairman Norris downright refused to verify or disqualify the annual revenue figure Senator McCain used. He kinda, sorta answered Chairman Tester’s question. The only relevant fact he could come up with was the $5 million dollar scholarship fund before he began ranting about the use of the Border Patrol agents’ use of TO roads.
Miss Binney, on the other hand, offered some startling testimony when she said they had hand written notes in their possession describing discussion of a possible closure of the 3 TO casinos in Southern Arizona and a move to rebuild and reopen them in the Phoenix area.
The last portion of testimony from the hearing is below:
Chairman Tester: “Thank you, Chairman Norris, for your testimony. Thank you all for your testimonies. Senator McCain.”
Senator McCain: “Thank you, Chairman. Ah, Chairman Norris, would you like to, for the record, supply the, ah, the amount of money, the revenue that your casinos have gained for the tribe on an annual basis?”
Chairman Norris: “I’ll be happy to give that some consideration but I will not do that without the express umm, umm, authorization of my legislative council.”
Senator McCain: “So, what ah, tell us how impoverished you are. I will provide for the record, Mr. Chairman, hearings that Senator Inouye and I had, including that with Attorneys General, especially in states that came and testified before our committee, where their great concerns were what would happen, is happening exactly now. That was one of the reasons why we had great difficulty getting the support of Governors and Attorneys General because they said, ‘if we don’t look out we’re going to have Indian gaming operations in the middle of our towns and cities.’ So, I would be glad to provide the record of hearings and the conclusions and statements that Senator Inouye and I made at the time of the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, um, which clearly was designed to prevent a non-contiguous, middle-of-a-metropolitan area, Indian gaming operation for which the people have, ah, maybe their elected representatives have, maybe some like Mr. Sherwood who changed their mind over time. Umm, but they have not been able to make their will known as far as a very significant impact in not only Glendale but in the entire West Side. So, Mr. Sherwood, out of curiosity I think you used to be very much opposed. You even wrote articles in opposition to this. What changed your mind?
Councilmember Sherwood: “Ah, thank you for the question, ah, Chair and Senator McCain. Umm, when I campaigned I had campaigned against this proposed based on information I had and I had read deal…quite a bit of information on it. Umm, the thing that was distressing to me though, that in the very beginning there was a half hour conversation when the city first found out about it in April of 2009 and that was the only conversation the previous administration had and I was, was always quite upset by the fact that we didn’t have the dialogue. We weren’t very doin’ very good in the courts. So when umm, we ah, after the new council got seated in January ’13 and we, ah, took care of the hockey situation we turned our attention to the casino issue which again, had been laboring for five years and started havin’ that informal dialogue and learned quite a bit more about the project from the fact that it could benefit us umm, in many more ways than what the gaming compact even called out for. So, those informal discussions led into, ah, formal fact finding in the November time frame which led to negotiations in March. Umm, and, and having gone through that and having voted on this a couple months ago to approve the project and to ah, equivocally set ourselves against this legislation (43:46) umm, and the benefits, certainly after talkin’ to other developers, I mean we’ve had several developers come to us uh, since this casino project was announced wanting to develop on Glendale, on land in Glendale city proper.”
Senator McCain: Well, thank you. Chairman Norris, I have before me information that, ah, I’m not sure where it came from but it alleges that your annual revenue from gaming is $68,200,000. Is that in the ballpark?”
Chairman Norris: “Chairman, Senator McCain, as I stated before without the authorization of my legislative council I’m not at this point, ah, able to disclose, to agree or disagree with your information.”
Senator McCain: “So you refuse to tell this committee who is expected to support your effort to establish a casino and you won’t even tell me whether this is a correct or incorrect number, $68,200,000?
Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, the courts have already made that determination on whether or not the Nation is within its legal right to be able to establish…and our current compact also authorizes it as well.”
Senator McCain: “I asked…that’s not in response to the question I asked Mr. Chairman. You refuse to give, to authenticate or disagree with roughly $68,200,000 in revenue for a year, ah, for your Nation?”
Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman…”
Senator McCain: “Is that correct? You do not wish to give that information? Either agree or disagree. “
Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, I am not agreeing or disagreeing. What I’m saying…”
Senator McCain: “Actually what you’ve done is refuse to answer questions before this committee. I’m not sure why you came. Ah, Mr. Mendoza, is there a concern, Chairman Mendoza, President Mendoza, is there a concern that there may be other loopholes such as this exploited and using this precedent to other casinos that would be established in the Valley?”
Governor Mendoza: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, uh, thank you for that question. You know, umm, I’ve been hearing about this particular bill and it would create that particular precedence and in my mind, no. The act has been very consistent with Congressional precedents and umm, if you’ll allow me, I will allow my attorney here to offer some specifics. Miss Benney.”
Miss Benney: “Yes, thank you Senator McCain. So the concern that you have is a legitimate concern in that Tohono O’odham if they’re able to build this Glendale casino can actually shut down their other three casinos in the Tucson area and move them up to the Phoenix area basically using the same legal theory. That’s why the East Valley mayors are so concerned because they think the same thing that is happening in Glendale can happen in the East Valley and I think it was Congressman Gossar last time brought it back that showed 200 county islands in other parts of the Phoenix Valley where the same thing can happen. But more importantly, in the negotiations and during litigation, umm, hand written notes have come out from Tohono O’odham’s representatives basically indicating that they would do such a thing. They’re aware that they have that legal ability if they’re successful in Glendale to shut down the other three casinos and move them up to the Phoenix area. That’s one of the biggest concerns of the East Valley mayors.”
Senator McCain: “Well, Mayor Weiers, you find yourself in the minority here. Maybe you can tell us how that happened going from the majority to the minority on this issue. I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with a $26 million dollar commitment over several years.”
Mayor Weiers: “Chairman, Senator McCain, I don’t actually know how I find myself in that position. I, you know, I’ve been ah, on one line of one thought, ah, ever since this issue came up when I was a state legislator. I know in our campaign, ah, that people have ran their campaigns, ah, stating certain views and certain beliefs and I guess I never really expected people to change their opinion but, ah, I don’t know exactly how we find ourselves here. You know the same facts, the same truths that were there two years ago are the same facts and truths today. Nothing’s changed. People’s opinions have changed and how they’ve changed their minds because of those truths and facts I don’t know. Sir, I really don’t know if that’s the question that maybe I should be asked but I’m not exactly sure how we came to that position.”
Senator McCain: “Thank you. Mr. Chairman, it bears repeating to all the witnesses in response to some of the statements. The Constitution calls for the Congress to have a special responsibility as far as Native Americans are concerned. It’s written in the Constitution. So although some may view this hearing and our action as being unwarranted interference it is a specific Constitutional responsibility of the Congress of the United States. Umm, so Mr. Chairman, this is a very busy week. We’ll be leaving tomorrow for quite awhile and you were kind enough to hold this hearing for me and I take that as a very special favor that you granted me and I wanted to express openly and repeatedly my appreciation for you doing this. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Chairman Tester: “Well, thank you for those kind words, Senator McCain. We always appreciate your commitment to the Senate and to this committee and we thank you for your leadership on a number of issues including this one. I, um, have a few questions here. I’ll start with Governor Mendoza. Ah, Governor, when it comes to tribal gaming in Arizona being successful, could you talk about the kinda success Gila River has enjoyed, ah, because of gaming.
Governor Mendoza: “Thank you for that question, ah, Senator. You know Gila River does enjoy the benefits from our casinos. Ah, we’ve been able to fully fund for our students to go to college, any college in the world. We’ve been able to provide funding for our public safety, police, fire, umm, our emergency management program. We’ve been able to provide programs for our elders, our youth, housing, you name it. We’ve been able to do a lot for our community and again, we’re very thankful and blessed.”
Chairman Tester: “Well, I commend you on your commitment to your people and education, ah, is one of my priorities. You reference, when it comes to the expansion of gaming, you reference a commitment made by the Tribes in 2002 that there be no additional gaming facilities in the Phoenix area. In the current gaming compacts there’s specific limitation on the Tohono O’odhams from building a fourth facility in the Tucson area. If the parties thought enough to put a Tucson limitation expressly in the compact why wouldn’t the state include such a limitation around Phoenix? Any insight into that?”
Governor Mendoza: “Thank you Senator Tester. You know, Senator Tester, I’m not an attorney. I’ll allow my attorney to answer that.”
Chairman Tester: “Well Allison, I think it’s a good point that you’re not an attorney. I’m not either. So, Allison, since you are, have at it.”
Miss Binney: “So, I think there’s some, there’s a little bit of confusion. So in Arizona it’s different than in most other states. Most other states the governors can go and just negotiate a compact directly with the Tribes and enter into it. In Arizona that’s not the case. The governor had to get authority from the voters to enter into compacts and so the voters voted on a model compact that I actually have the Proposition that the voters had here. So Tohono O’odham does say here, like nowhere in the model compact or the compact does it say Tohono O’odham can’t go into Phoenix. I mean, number one there was no need to say that in the compact because no one ever thought that would happen; but two, in all the negotiations which are a key part of what this bill is trying to address Tohono O’odham specifically said their fourth casino would be in the Tucson area or in a rural area. They never once indicated that they would somehow go a hundred miles up to the Phoenix area. But I will say the Proposition that has the model compact that the voters actually saw when they voted to give the governor authority, there’s a chart in there and in the chart it shows the number of casinos that the Tribes in Arizona were authorized to build under the old compact and the number of casinos that the Tribes would be authorized to build under the new compact, the model compact that the voters were voting on. In the Phoenix area Tribes, all are shown as giving up a right to an additional facility that they had under the old compact. Tohono O’odham, because they’re not a Phoenix area Tribe, kept the same number of casinos, the right to build the same number of casinos. So Gila River is shown as giving up an additional casino, right to an additional casino. Salt River gave up the right to an additional casino. Ak Chin gave up the right to an additional casino. Fort McDowell gave up a right to an additional casino and so did Pasqua Yaqui. Tohono O’odham didn’t have to give up the right to an additional casino ‘cause they weren’t in the Phoenix area. So in our view, it is in the compact. Why else would these charts be in here showing that the Phoenix Tribes gave up rights to casinos and Tohono O’odham didn’t if it wasn’t intended that the whole goal of the compact was to limit the number of facilities in the Phoenix area?”
Chairman Tester: “Okay. Umm, if you don’t mind Allison, I wanna ask you another question. Umm, since you are an attorney and since you know the law and I say this in the most friendly way. When I talk to Chairman Norris and I think was referenced in one of your testimonies. Maybe it might have been Washburn’s testimony about breaking ground on a facility already. So ground has been broken. If we are to pass this bill would there be a takings issue?”
Miss Binney: “No and I thought it was interesting that Assistant Secretary Washburn didn’t address this issue at all. Because he was aware of it and Senator McCain asked him about it last time. And the fundamental reason why is because this bill just provides a temporary restriction on gaming activities on certain lands. That’s what IGRA does. The Indian Regulatory Gaming Act was passed to restrict gaming on Tribal lands. So, if this bill is a taking so is the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act and that’s been around for 25 years and that’s been upheld again and again and again.”
Chairman Tester: “So, in one point you’re talking about policy that prevents gaming activities to happen with IGRA. This is an actual, physical construction. You don’t see that there’s any difference there? And I ask this because I don’t know.”
Miss Binney: “Yeah, no. We, actually, when it came up in the last hearing, Senator McCain asked it, we actually went and did a thorough analysis because I will say, last Congress there was some legitimate concerns raised by Tohono O’odham and we addressed them in this new bill. But we looked at it and the other reason it’s not a takings is ‘cause Congress does these types of bills fairly frequently actually restricting gaming on lands and they can build a resort; they can build a new sports stadium. They can do economic activity…”
Chairman Tester: “Thank you. That’s fine. Thank you, Allison. Uh, Chairman Norris, ah, you’ve got a similar question that I just asked Governor Mendoza. You’ve got gaming facilities, umm, can you discuss what benefits you’ve got from these gaming facilities and while you’re in that vein could you also discuss unmet needs that are still out there by your Tribe?”
Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, ah, I, too, am not an attorney. I am the elected chairman of my Nation and have an obligation to speak for my people.”
Chairman Tester: “Yes.”
Chairman Norris: “So I will do so. There are still third world conditions that exist in my tribal community and many tribal communities nationwide. The Nation has had an enormous amount of benefit in comparison to where we were at prior to gaming. We have been able to construct different facilities that were only dreams facilities, that we were needing within our communities to be able to provide the necessary services. We have been able to create a government of employees that are, that are able to provide the necessary services that many of our Nation’s members require. We have been able to provide scholarships to our, to our members. Prior to gaming we had probably less than 300 members that acquired masters, associates and doctors degrees and some law degrees. Today we have graduated more Tohono O’odham with those types of degrees this many years later and my council continues to allocate some $5 million dollars towards scholarship programs to our Nation. So we have had an enormous amount of benefit from the results of gaming but we still have those third world conditions that continue to exist. As far as unmet needs, Mr. Chairman, we know today that we have 500 families that are homeless on the Nation. We know today that there are many people within our communities that do need housing. We know today that much of the roads that are within our Tribal communities are being used and misused by the U.S. Border Patrol because of the influx of Border agents on our Nation, have really done wear and tear on our roads, and primarily BIA are on our roads. And so there’s a need for us to work hand in hand with the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to try and address the roads conditions that are so needing to be addressed, to be able to deliver the services, to be able to enter and to exit our Tribal communities nationwide. We have a reservation that is 2.1 million acres square. We have some 2.9 million acres in size. We have some 80 villages within that geographical area. The reservation is vast. The villages are remote. We’ve got homes that do not have running water. We’ve got homes that do not have electricity. So there’s a serious amount of unmet needs on my Tribal community.”
Chairman Tester: “Ah, thank you, Chairman. Mayor Weiers, umm, you’re a former state legislator. You’ve worked with city government as mayor and I think you understand the actual text of laws and contracts and the weight that carries with the weight that carries with those contracts and that text. In this case there was a specific limitation, correct me if I’m wrong, on TO developments around Tucson but not Phoenix. Umm, with that said, if this limitation on gaming around the Phoenix area was important, why was it not included in the contract or Prop 202?
Mayor Weiers: “Chairman Tester, all I can tell you is, is, is the knowledge that I have of talking to one of the authors, Senator McCain, and he had told me, point blank, that, uh, there was never, ever any intention in their mind that this would ever be an issue. And I don’t believe personally, quite honestly, that the average person, a non attorney person, would ever thought something like this. You know, uh, I guess that’s why we have attorneys to sit around and think of ways to get around stuff. But ah, I don’t believe anybody ever believed that this was going to be an issue and, and it is an issue. And, and quite honestly all this bill is trying to is just, let’s do what everybody said and thought we were gonna do and then when that compact’s over, renegotiate. Chances are we’ll probably end up with more casinos in the Valley. Most certainly.”
Chairman Tester: “Thanks, Mayor. Ah, Councilman Sherwood, ah, your testimony discusses the impacts that the agreement with TO would have on the city of Glendale. Ah, positive impacts. Umm, could you talk about those benefits of this development and while you’re on that, if there’s downside that comes to mind, could you talk about that too?”
Councilmember Sherwood: “Ah, thank you, Chair. Well, right off the bat, I can’t see of any downside in the negotiations, ah, in the settlement agreement that we concluded with the Tohono O’odhams in August. Ah, they’re covering existing infrastructure, new infrastructure, umm, water, umm, it’s not costin’ the city a penny. I mean, how often do you get a development where you don’t have to give in to anything? Umm, in terms of the development, we were hurt pretty hard with the down turn of our sports and entertainment. There was 8 funded projects that were to occur, south of the University of Phoenix Stadium where our Arizona Cardinals play. Umm, one of ‘em, umm, was Mr. Bidwill’s, ah, CB 101 Project before he started building. Those either went into litigation afterwards or the developers pulled back. Those are slowly comin’ back but not nearly the pace that was expected. So, our sports and entertainment area which has two professional sports teams, large entertainment area along with some retail, umm, was hurt vastly by that. And so when we have the mega events, like when we have the Super Bowl next February, umm, we don’t have anything to keep people in the area. So they go off into Scottsdale and Phoenix. Umm, a project like this resort will, umm, entice other development. In fact within, within weeks of us signing that agreement we had two major developers; one that had done a large scale project in Phoenix come through and they were only interested in us now because of this project and they were lookin’ at land within the city of Glendale to develop that would, ah, be real close to the sports and entertainment area. So, yes, we’re lookin’ at a lot of, ah, development activity that will directly benefit our city coffers and then again, on the deal that was referenced earlier about the $26 million or so, umm, that we get directly into the General Fund from the Tohono O’odhams. In fact we’ve already received a check for $500,000, ten days after the agreement was signed. Umm, that helps the city that has struggled as has been widely reported, umm, because of our past deals with some of the sporting facilities we have. It’s sorely helped our community.”
Chairman Tester: “Okay. Talk about jobs. How many jobs?”
Councilmember Sherwood: “The jobs, in terms of the operations, you’re gonna see 3,000 jobs, 1,500 of ‘em probably indirect. Ah, 15 direct in terms of construction jobs. It’s right now scheduled for three phases, the casino and then the attached resort and then probably year later, another resort based on how things are movin’ along. So you’re talkin’ thousands of construction jobs, ah, over this project that’s gonna take place over the next four years. But in terms of actual jobs, umm, in the West Valley, I’d say about 3,000.”
Chairman Tester: “Well, once again, I want to thank all of you for, ah, makin’ the trek to Washington, D.C. I know it’s not easy and some of you made it twice and I thank you for that. And I mean that. This is obviously an emotional issue it’s ah, it’s ah, an important issue. Umm, note that the hearing will remain open for two weeks and I encourage all stakeholders to submit written statements for the record. I’m gonna’ say that again. Ah, this hearing record will remain open for two weeks and, ah, if you’re a stakeholder on this issue I would encourage you to write written statements, ah, for the record. With that thank you all and this hearing is closed.”
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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