As Gov. Schwarzenegger announced a major new casino deal with one of the
state’s largest gaming tribes, the administration also succeeded in creating
a political problem for Treasurer Phil Angelides. The deal between the
administration and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is vehemently
opposed by labor groups. Now, Angelides must decide between a tested ally
that helped deliver him the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and Indian
tribes who could help sink his election hopes in the fall.
Angelides’ political dilemma is no accident: Capitol sources say
Schwarzenegger’s campaign strategist Steve Schmidt was instrumental in
promoting the new dialogue between the administration and the tribes that
resulted in the latest agreement. Others point to the ouster of Pat Clarey
and the replacement of tribal negotiator Dan Kolkey with Andrea Hoch.
Angelides’ campaign said the treasurer has not yet reviewed the compact, and
did not have a comment on the new Agua Caliente deal. But Jack Gribbon,
political director for Unite Here, which represents casino and hotel
workers, has called the deal “a kick in the stomach” to workers.
If the conflict between labor and the tribes is not resolved, Angelides may
be forced to choose sides. The lack of worker protections in the new compact
is similar to the deal reached between the tribe and former Gov. Gray Davis,
who also enjoyed strong labor support.
The new deals represent an about-face by Schwarzenegger, who rode to power
in 2003 in large part by criticizing the very tribes he is now negotiating
with. In 2004, Schwarzenegger vigorously opposed a ballot measure, funded by
various tribes, that would have erased most limits on tribal gaming in
California. The decision to renegotiate these compacts, like many decisions
made by the administration over the last few months, is a political one.
Supporters say the move also represents another political coup for the
governor, who has sought to neutralize as many of his past political
opponents as possible. “You almost have to pity the Angelides campaign,”
said GOP strategist Karen Hanretty. “They just keep getting outmaneuvered
day after day on issue after issue.”
This week’s announcement of the Agua Caliente deal came amid rumors that
future compacts are on the way. The tribes, who are locked in talks with the
governor’s office, include some of the biggest opponents of the 2003 recall,
and biggest financial donors to Cruz Bustamante’s campaign against
Schwarzenegger, including the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the
Pechanga Band of Luise