On September 17, 2014 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took testimony on Senate Bill 2670 introduced by Senators McCain and Flake. In previous blogs, Part I and Part II, I offered verbatim transcripts of the testimonies of Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Gila River Governor Gregory Mendoza and Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. Today the verbatim testimony is that of Glendale Councilmember Gary Sherwood and Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris, Jr.
Actually Councilmember Sammy Chavira was slated to testify. Why didn’t that happen? Have you ever noticed that the Sherwood-Chavira pairing is eerily similar to Mutt and Jeff? I’ll leave you to figure out who is Mutt and who is Jeff. At the last minute, at the hearing table in fact, Sammy was bumped and Sherwood took over as self proclaimed representative of Glendale’s majority council position on the issue.
Many have asked who pays for these trips to Washington, D.C. The answer is easy. You do – the taxpayers of Glendale. Each councilmember has 2 budgets: one for “communication” and one for “infrastructure.” These budgets total an annual $30,000. It is from these budgets that a councilmember’s trips are paid.
Sherwood’s testimony was a combination of rhetoric and fantasy. He delivered facts that can only be characterized as misinformation. He said, “…88% of the wage earners who live in our community must travel elsewhere to work.” According to http://www.citydata.com/city/Glendale-Arizona.html#ixzz3Ej8KFaU3 workers who live and work in Glendale number 25,039 (23.6%). He went on to say, “I was stunned to learn that the prior Glendale administration had failed to make any effort to learn more about this proposal before it rushed to oppose it.” Wrong again. City administrative personnel were directed by council in 2009 to meet with the Tohono O’odham (TO). That meeting as well as subsequent meetings did not go well. The TO were arrogant telling city staffers that the casino was coming and there was nothing the city could do about it. The only information they were willing to share were the same conceptuals of the project they had released publicly. So much for the TO’s willingness to share specific information with the city. Sherwood then went on to say,“ We have talked to many business leaders in this area including leaders of two professional sports teams and major hospitality developments and they all support this West Valley project.” Who is this ‘we’? Despite his rhetoric the businesses, especially the sports teams, are not supportive of the casino. Why should they be? The casino will siphon off discretionary dollars from those who usually attend their games. Councilmember Sherwood, show us the money, or rather some letters from these businesses attesting to their support of direct, unfair competition. We’d all like to see those.
Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris used a combination of sheer arrogance and threat in his testimony. He admonished all entities but most specifically sister Tribes in Arizona by saying, “…we ask these tribes to carefully consider the damage their efforts are causing…” He, once again, made reference to the Nation’s poverty status, “…our population is one of the poorest in the United States with average, individual incomes just over $8,000.” What are the Nation’s leaders doing with the $36 million earned by its existent 3 casinos annually? He referred to their back room deals as misinformation and said they had been litigated. How? The TO has consistently refused to waive “sovereign immunity” in court proceedings. He also verbally stamped his feet and said if they didn’t get their casino it would be a “profound injustice.” What about the “profound injustice” the TO have caused to Glendale, its sister Tribes and the state of Arizona?
The last blog in this series will wrap up with questions posed to the panel by Chairman Tester and Senator McCain. It is certainly interesting. Below is the verbatim testimony of Councilmember Sherwood and Chairman Norris:
Chairman Tester: “Councilman Sherwood.”
Councilmember Sherwood: “Good afternoon Chairman Tester and members of Senate Indian Affairs Committee. My name is Gary Sherwood and I am the councilmember of the city of Glendale, Arizona. On behalf of Glendale I am here today with my fellow councilmember and colleague, Sammy Chavira. We are pleased to have given the opportunity to present Glendale’s official position on S. 2670, the so-called Keep the Promise Act.
“Let me be absolutely clear. The city of Glendale strongly opposes enactment of this legislation. The city, twice, has adopted official resolutions clearly expressing this opposition and these resolutions have been provided to the committee. In this opposition to 2670 and House Bill 1410 we have been joined our sister cities, Peoria, Tolleson and Surprise all of which have long opposed this legislation. It is important to understand that collectively our cities represent the vast majority of the population of Phoenix’s West Valley.
“Our communities desperately need this economic development and employment opportunities which the Nation’s casino and resort project bring to our area. In Glendale alone, nearly 80,000 of the nearly 90,000 workers who live in Glendale must leave the city for their employment. In other words, 88% of the wage earners who live in our community must travel elsewhere to work. Obviously, this job situation is a significant problem in our community. In the next twenty years 65% of the growth of the Phoenix Metropolitan area will occur in the West Valley.
“Existing casinos in the Phoenix area are over whelmingly concentrated in the East Valley and the West Valley Resort will be over twenty miles away from the nearest of these existing casinos. There is no doubt that these successful facilities will continue to prosper.
“When I was first elected to council in 2012, I knew we had to do our homework on a project like this. I was stunned to learn that the prior Glendale administration had failed to make any effort to learn more about this proposal before it rushed to oppose it. It was time to make decisions based on the facts. At the direction of my colleagues, Councilman Chavira, whose district borders the Nation’s reservation, Councilman Ian Hugh, Councilwoman Norma Alvarez and myself, city staff spent months carefully examining every aspect of the Nation’s proposed development.
“A minority of Glendale City Council including Mayor Weiers continue to maintain that there’s no opposition to this project. But as President Reagan once said, ‘facts are stubborn things.’ Facts show that we have been misled, not by the Nation, but by the interests seeking to protect their overwhelming casino market share. Based on this misinformation the city clearly on rebuffed the Nation’s efforts to forge a mutually beneficial relationship.
“I am glad that now the city has opened a new chapter with the Nation and has entered into an agreement that will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of direct benefits to the city. Today the City of Glendale and the Tohono O’odham Nation are bound by ties of friendship. I recently had the honor of participating in a historic ground breaking ceremony with Chairman Norris, members of the legislative council, local and business leaders and hundreds of supporters. Construction of the project is now underway. This facility will be located next to our vibrant sports and entertainment district, an area that is represented by Councilman Chavira. We have talked to many business leaders in this area including leaders of two professional sports teams and major hospitality developments and they all support this West Valley project.
“I am sorry to report to the committee that despite these benefits and the unequivocal support of Glendale residents who in poll after poll expressed overwhelming support for this West Valley Resort the East Valley casino interests are again trying to interfere. Over the last several days these casino interests have been using paid signature gatherers to mislead Glendale residents into signing a petition to challenge the city’s agreement with the Nation. As been widely reported to the press these paid signature gatherers have been caught on tape lying to Glendale voters suggesting that the petitions are in favor of the West Valley Resort. Thankfully, even Mayor Weiers has acknowledged that this dishonest publicity stunt will not in any way affect the city’s agreement. I share the sentiments of a long time Glendale business owner who told me this bill is more properly titled ‘keeping the profits after 2014.’
“For the broadest reasons the city respectfully urges that the federal government should not interfere in our efforts to improve the lives of our citizens. Do not destroy this valuable partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and our community.
“Umm, Senator McCain, you did bring up a point, umm, about what this would do to other Phoenix area casinos. Again, a good share of the growth in the Valley of the Sun is gonna take place in the West Valley over the next twenty years and currently there are, of the seven casinos that are considered in the Phoenix Metro area six of ‘em are in the far East Valley with the one being a little over twenty miles away. So I really don’t think that’s gonna be a concern.
“Thank you for this opportunity to testify in this matter. I, and Councilman Chavira, will be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.”
Chairman Tester: “Thank you Councilman Sherwood. Ah, Chairman Norris.”
Chairman Norris: “Chairman Tester, Senator McCain, and honorable members of the committee, Good Afternoon. This is now the fourth time that I’ve had, that I’ve come before Congress to testify about this legislation. If enacted it would commit a profound injustice against the Tohono O’odham Nation and set a terrible precedent for Indian country.
“Although I do very much appreciate the opportunity to provide our views on this bill the Nation is profoundly disappointed that Congress continues to entertain the cynically named Keep the Promise Act. This legislation shows no respect for the clear terms of the 1986 settlement agreement between the Nation and the United States; no respect for the contractual agreement between the Nation and the state of Arizona in our 2003 gaming compact; no respect for the federal court and the administrative agencies which in sixteen decisions have reviewed the settlement, the compact, the law and found in favor of the Nation; and no respect for the United States’ trust responsibility to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
“At the heart of this matter, as I have testified previously, is the fact that the Corps of Engineers destroyed nearly 10,000 acres of the Nation’s Gila Bend Reservation in Maricopa County. In 1986 Congress enacted the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act to compensate the Nation for the loss of its land and valuable water rights. An important part of this settlement is the right to acquire replacement land that has the same legal status as the destroyed land. Most of our reservation land is located in remote, isolated areas and our population is one of the poorest in the United States with average, individual incomes just over $8,000. As Congress clearly provided in 1986 the Nation will develop its replacement reservation land to generate revenue for public services and employment for our people.
“ In deciding to use our land for gaming we relied on the plain language of the Gila Bend Act which promises that we can use our replacement land as a federal reservation for all purposes; the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act which explicitly allows settlement lands to be used for gaming and our tribal state gaming which the state and all Arizona gaming tribes negotiated and signed and which explicitly allows gaming on new lands consistent with the requirements of IGRA.
“The Nation has had it with the constant misinformation and rhetoric about the backroom deals and secret plans. These arguments have been litigated and rejected by the courts. Here are the facts. Not only is the Gila Bend Act a public law that was the subject of extensive hearings in the 1980s. This land acquisition authority was explicitly preserved in the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act by which Gila River Indian Community secured its enormously valuable water rights settlement. Further not only does the tribal state compact clearly allow the Nation to game on its settlement land in Maricopa County it also explicitly prohibits outside agreements which would change the compact terms. Our sister tribes have long benefitted from the advice of numerous experienced attorneys. The idea that these tribes had no understanding of the Nation’s rights under the plain language of the Gila Bend Act, IGRA and the tribal state compact is, as the United States courts declared, entirely unreasonable.
“The Gila River Indian Community, the Salt River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation are relatives and friends and our shared history is vitally important to the Nation but these tribes continued assaults has taken a toll and we ask these tribes to carefully consider the damage their efforts are causing both in Arizona and in Indian country, generally.
“Honorable members of the committee, the Nation respectfully urges that you put an end to this misguided, cynical legislation. Embrace the promises made by the United States and the Indian Water Rights Settlement. It unilaterally amends the negotiated terms of federally approved tribal state gaming compact. Most of all it is a return to a dishonorable era of federal Indian policy and will leave a black mark on this committee and this Congress’ legacy. Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.”
Chairman Tester: “Thank you, Chairman Norris, for your testimony. Thank you all for your testimonies. Senator McCain.”
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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