Thursday, November 11, 2004

Conservatives and Pawlenty's casino coercion

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:00 AM |  

In today’s Pioneer Press, professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota David Wilkins has an OP-ED piece that answers all the questions about why Minnesota signed the Native American gaming compact that it did. Working within the constraints of federal precedence and law, Minnesota had very little leverage in the negotiations. One might argue that the $150,000 that the tribes pay for regulation and inspection is too low and that the compacts should not have been signed in perpetuity, but the fundamental restraints on states vis a vis taxation of tribes as laid out by Wilkins are correct.

However, Wilkins errs when he makes this statement --
“Pawlenty's efforts [to coerce funds from the tribes] are deeply flawed on several important grounds: They are constitutionally suspect; they violate the inherent doctrine of tribal sovereignty; they run afoul of existing federal law; they contradict the state's own sovereignty accord that was first announced in 2002 and was reaffirmed by Pawlenty in 2003; and they breach the essential doctrine of federal supremacy in the field of Indian affairs.”
To the contrary, Pawlenty’s threat to establish some form of a state-run casino if the tribes do not fork over 25 percent of their revenue, about $350 million, may violate the spirit of those agreements, but it is in no way “illegal.” In fact, Pawlenty is dealing with the tribes on a sovereign-to-sovereign basis every bit as much as President Bush did with Saddam Hussein.

Bush to Hussein -- disarm or suffer the consequences. Pawlenty to the tribes -- pay me or suffer the consequences. The difference is one of authority to act.

President Bush was acting with legitimate authority to protect the United States. One can debate whether his judgment was good and his action necessary, but not whether the president of the United States has the authority to act to protect the country.

Governor Pawlenty has no such legitimate authority for his actions. The governor of Minnesota has no legitimate authority to exchange legislation for money. The state of Minnesota has no legitimate authority to enter into competition with private businesses by operating a casino. Unfortunately, the state has the authority of power to do both.

It is surprising to me (okay, not really) how professed conservatives responded to my column with the liberalesque-sounding “the state needs revenue,” “Indians should pay their fair share of the burden” or “Indians have an unfair advantage.” Substitute “the rich” or “Microsoft” for “Indians” in those phrases and you’re talking Air America. It seems as if the temptation of $350 million in revenue gain through government coercion is enough to justify, in this case, government intervention as “the lesser of two evils.” On this issue conservatives are eyeing tribal gaming profits the same way liberals look at the estates of the evil filthy rich. They got it; I want it.

Ultimately, the only check on Pawlenty’s predatory grab for revenue is popular recognition that it is contrary to the spirit and principles of limited government. As I also wrote in my column, it is our shame that choosing between $350 million and principled government is not an easy choice.

UPDATE: Another common element of conservative objections to my column is that the Native American tribes are major contributors to DFL candidates. My question for any legal eagles out there is “If the tribes are indeed sovereign nations, like say Indonesia, can they legally contribute to political campaigns?”

UPDATE: Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark checks in on the casino controversy.

Read "Governor's Brando impression isn't funny"