Skip to comments.CA: Gambling tribes courting labor's political friends (including "front-runner" Villaraigosa)
Posted on 01/18/2007 11:52:17 AM PST by NormsRevenge
TEMECULA Seeking to reverse recent setbacks and improve their long-range political position, California's gambling tribes moved yesterday to establish common ground with labor-backed Democrats who blocked five new gambling compacts last summer.
The tribes not only invited Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to speak at a national gaming conference at Pechanga Resort and Casino, but also embraced him as someone who could be one of our own, and then gave him an extended standing ovation. Afterward, tribal leaders and others lined up to have pictures taken with the mayor.
Just six years ago, some of the same tribes helped defeat Villaraigosa in his first bid for mayor because he had supported labor's push for stronger collective-bargaining protections in the state's tribal gambling agreements. The issue has not gone away, which is why the pending compacts are stuck in legislative limbo in the state Capitol.
Villaraigosa, a former state Assembly speaker, remains one of labor's most prominent political allies in California. With his election in May 2005 as mayor of the state's largest city, the Democrat has quickly emerged as one of the favorites to become California's next governor.
Many tribes are still at odds with labor, but they recognize that as Villaraigosa's political stature grows, he could serve as someone who could bring adversaries together.
There's no big mystery here. ... He's in the top tier of likely candidates for governor, said Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro. But he's come looking for nothing other than to re-connect with tribal people and friends, because up until that one bill and that one vote back then, he had been with us.
The bill was legislation that ratified the Pala compact, an agreement negotiated with former Gov. Pete Wilson when Villaraigosa was speaker in 1998. Villaraigosa helped push the measure through despite opposition from tribes, who objected to collective-bargaining language demanded by labor.
The compact was negotiated on behalf of the Pala band of North County, although all involved agreed that it was intended to serve as a model agreement for other tribes.
Three years later, when Villaraigosa was locked in a tough mayoral race against then-City Attorney James Hahn, tribes weighed in with more than $350,000 for radio and TV ads. One TV spot showed a man smoking a crack-cocaine pipe. The message portrayed Villaraigosa as soft on crime for seeking leniency for an alleged cocaine dealer.
That was probably one of the worst mistakes we ever made, said Michael Lombardi, a gaming commissioner for the Augustine band in Coachella and a tribal consultant. It was not high-brow politics.
But, Lombardi said, tribes believed Villaraigosa had assured them he would not back the Pala compact. The tribal money in the mayoral race was a response to a similar level of support the tribes believed Villaraigosa had received indirectly from the hotel and restaurant employees union, Lombardi said.
So we made a mistake. He made a mistake. We're human. . . . This was an effort today to rectify that, Lombardi said.
This is the beginning of a new political relationship between California's gaming tribes and Mayor Villaraigosa, and I would say he was a big hit with our membership. This won't be the last time that the Indians and the mayor will be together.
The effort to reconcile with Villaraigosa quietly began more than three years ago, one tribal source said. A few months ago, Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, invited Villaraigosa to address the Western Indian Gaming Conference this week. The mayor quickly accepted.
Miranda also had reached out to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in remarks delivered to the same gathering last year. Within months, the chilly relationship many tribes had with the Republican governor had thawed and long-stalled negotiations on new gambling agreements quietly resumed.
In August, Schwarzenegger signed deals that would allow Pechanga, Sycuan of El Cajon and three other tribes to add 22,500 more slots to their already successful casinos. But those agreements were blocked by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, a Los Angeles Democrat and Villaraigosa ally.
Debate on ratification of those compacts is expected to resume soon, but Núñez has made clear he will insist on stronger labor provisions.
Villaraigosa said in an interview yesterday that he was eager to bury past differences with some of the state's most powerful tribes, who are among the state's biggest political contributors.
I accepted this invitation because I've had a long and positive relationship with the tribes over the years, Villaraigosa said.
In his remarks, he applauded the tribes for the invitation and echoed their assertion that they have much in common.
I'm here today because Native American leaders stood up and said 'Enough,' said Villaraigosa, apparently referring to the stalemate. In Los Angeles, in 2005, we practiced what tribal leaders have always preached. We pulled our strengths together, instead of dividing our power. We concentrated on our commonalities, instead of dwelling on our differences. We did it together.
I'm here to say we need to get together. I'm here to say we need to stay together.
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