Behind-the-scenes fight preceded Democratic neutrality on gaming compacts

For months, Democratic loyalists have been bracing for a fight between labor and tribes over the amended gaming compacts that could become a contentious distraction within the party. They got a preview last weekend, with the sides fighting it out during the party’s executive board meeting in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, two legal challenges to the anti-compact referendums were turned back last week. Next Tuesday, a third challenge will get its day in court, with the help of a “friend of the court” brief filed by the governor’s office.

The fight at the Democrtic Party gathering, and in the courts, underscores the intesnse infighting – and strange bedfellows that have coalesced around the fight over the four compacts. Tribes opposed to the compacts have joined forces with racetrack owners that have sued them in court. Democratic supporters of the compacts have sought to make an issue of the fact the anti-compact side has hired Tom Hiltachk, a well-known Republican attorney who at one point was connected to controversial GOP initiative to split California’s electoral votes. And during the convention, the person running the operation for the labor groups was a former member of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee.

Ted Green used to be a Republican official in Los Angeles County, according to his official biography. But now, as consultant to the anti-compact side with the firm of Woodward & McDowell, he is standing with labor leaders opposed to the four gaming deals. When asked about his party identification, Green said that was personal and he was at the convention in a professional role.

Green said that he was confident that this latest legal challenge to the referendum effort would also be thrown out.

“Why are they so afraid of letting the voters have their say?” Green said.

The voters in Anaheim last week ultimately could not make up their minds. The California Democratic Party (CDP) executive board did not take a position on four referendums that would turn back the new gaming compacts approved by the governor earlier this year. Along the way, however, Democrats saw some intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by two of it’s most reliable allies.

Some opposed to the compacts were upset with an e-mail that went out to several dozen people on November 13 from Ron Andrade, a board member of the CDP’s Native American Caucus and the Executive Director of the LA City/County Indian Commission. Andrade is a member of a “small, non-gaming tribe,” the La Jolla of the San Diego area.

In the e-mail, Andrade wrote: “We are asking for you to attend the Native American Caucus of the Democratic Party on Friday at 8pm at the Sheraton Park Hotel, Anaheim. We will pay for your membership and we will provide dinner.”

This led to charges that Andrade was using his offices to stack the meeting with compact supporters, particularly since message went out from his LA County email address.

Andrade confirmed that he wrote the email, but said it has been taken out of context. He said the offer was from him personally, and was not meant to come from any official body. Three people took him up on the offer, he said, and he paid for the meals and the $25 caucus membership out of his own pocket.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘I,’” Andrade said. “It’s not in our culture.” He added, “It went out to my friends. No one got it blind.”
“I don’t think it matters how many people took him up on it,” said John Gomez, a former member of the Pechanga tribe who has become an activist for disenrolled Indians. “It’s the fact that offer was made.”

While Gomez claimed that Andrade succeeded in “stacking the meeting” with compact supporters in green t-shirts, both sides say the gaming compacts never actually came up during the caucus meeting. Instead, the caucus debated and voted to oppose a congressional bill punishing the Cherokee nation for excluding longtime black “Freedman” members, and a measure on the issue of disenrollment from Democratic activist Steve Haze. After the vote of the full executive board later the weekend to stay neutral on the compact referrendums, Haze said, “Everybody was claiming victory.”

Meanwhile, the anti-compact effort has been fending off lawsuits from the four big gaming tribes. Suits from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians—both seeking to block the anti-compact referendums on technical grounds—were turned down in Sacramento Superior Court last week.

A third tribe, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, gets their day in the same court next Tuesday. In the case of Agua Caliente chairman Richard Milanovich vs. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the tribe is arguing that under California law, the voters do not have jurisdiction over the agreement, because it was not legislation but a deal between two sovereign governments.

“We don’t think this is a referendable issue,” said Nancy Conrad, public affairs director for the tribe. Conrad is not a tribal member.
On Tuesday, the Schwarzenegger administration filed an amicus brief supporting the tribe’s position. It was signed by his legal affairs secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, and among other reasons cited the cost to the state for holding the referendums.

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