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Mayor goes to Washington to oppose Franks’ bill

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Bob Barrett

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Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2011 7:45 pm

Barrett testifies for Tohono O'odham Nation West Valley project

Mayor Bob Barrett, acting on his own behalf, and not for a city council official position, appeared Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C. to testify against a proposed bill brought by Congressman Trent Franks before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

Franks (R-Dist. 2), presented a bill that if passed and signed into law, would prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from building its proposed resort/casino at Northern and 95th avenues, across the street from the City of Peoria.

The legislative hearing on H.R. 2938, the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Clarification Act, heard from Barrett and several other entities, including the San Carlos Apache and Pascua Yaqui tribes, who also joined the mayor in support of the Tohono O'odham Nation's project.

Barrett told the subcommittee the project meant jobs for people in the West Valley, an area he referred to as one that, although it has experienced "some of the fastest growth in Arizona," also has "suffered significantly from the recession and faces continued economic fragility."

The mayor said, "Let us be clear from the outset about what H.R. 2938 really is: job-killing special interest legislation designed to protect existing Indian gaming operations and those who benefit from those operations. This bill is not about whether the Nation's land lies within its aboriginal territory or about whether the proposed casino and resort complies with the tribal-state compact or other applicable laws. And it most certainly is not about ‘protecting' the local community. Rather, this bill represents an attempt to circumvent ongoing litigation challenging the Nation's project which, so far, has not gone to the established gaming interests' liking and has upheld the right of the Tohono O'odham Nation to develop its resort project."

Barrett said he experienced "significant personal discomfort" that the parties involved in litigation against the Tohono O'odham Nation's project "now seek to effect a change in federal law in order to skew the outcome of that litigation."

He said for Congress now to amend the law "is to change the rules in the middle of the game -- this to me is fundamentally unfair, and frankly unworthy of our federal government."

Barrett invited members of the subcommittee to visit the site and talk with those who live in the area to learn more about the economic situation and the impact the resort/casino would have.

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. related the history of the tribe, its loss of 10,000 acres of land due to the construction of Painted Rock Dam, and the subsequent Indian Lands Replacement Act of 1986. Norris said Franks' bill would "create significant new liability for the United States, as it will generate causes of action against the United States for breach of contract, breach of trust, and takings claims that could result in a substantial sum of money being awarded to the nation."

"Ultimately," Norris said, "the American taxpayer will have to subsidize the cost of this special interest legislation."

"To change the rules in the middle of the game -- this to me is fundamentally unfair, and frankly unworthy of our federal government." -- Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett

In his conclusion, Norris told the subcommittee the bill would destroy "the planned creation of 9,000 new jobs for the West Valley area," and his parting statement was, "enactment of H.R. 2938 would add yet another black mark to the United States' long history of breaking its promises to Native Americans. With all due respect, is the breaking of commitments Congress' legacy to Indian Country?

There were proponents of the bill, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community, whose president, Diane Enos, said the project proposed by the Tohono O'odham Nation threatens to nullify the compact between the Native American tribes in Arizona and the state. She pointed to the 2002 vote by Arizonans that brought about the compact that gives casino gaming rights to the tribes only.

In her summary, Enos said, "The Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and the other tribes from Arizona that are present today, urge Congress to pass H.R. 2938. It is needed to clarify the original Gila Bend act so that any land purchased since its enactment is not eligible for Class II or Class III gaming pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The clarification does not interfere with the Nation's desire to have land taken into trust. It maintains the status quo in Arizona and does not adversely affect any tribe. Without this bill, the other Arizona Tribes may suffer because the current gaming compacts could be nullified. This bill does not prevent the Nation from acquiring the land in trust and establishing other economic development. We support this legislation."

For the full transcript of Mayor Barrett's testimony, see attached pdf.

Poll numbers ‘impressive'

In the meantime, the Nation hired Behavior Research Center (BRC) to conduct another poll of voters in the West Valley to learn if support or opposition has changed since the last poll in March 2010.

Jim Haynes, president of BRC, said Tuesday the numbers supporting the Tohono O'odham Nation's West Valley casino/resort project were "impressive."

No longer just 67 percent of West Valley respondents approve of the project. Now, the number is 75 percent.

Haynes said, "These kinds of margins are impressive. If this were to be decided by voters in the West Valley, Matt Smith (marketing chief for the Nation) and his campaign would be very happy."

Over a four-day period, Sept. 27 to 30, BRC interviewed 400 registered voters west of Interstate 17. The cities of Glendale, Peoria and the unincorporated Sun City area were among the three dominant parts of the poll, Haynes said. Buckeye, Tolleson and Avondale voters were also polled.

Before each respondent was polled, they were asked if they were aware of the project, and 80 percent knew about it, Haynes said, adding that this fact was significant in itself.

"Significant in the sense that, No. 1, it's above the margin of error, so, statistically significant, and it's a direction," Haynes said. "And awareness has remained constant, 80 percent last year, and 80 percent we talked to a few days ago are aware of the project. For a development issue, that's pretty dramatic.

"For a local development, this is definitely an unusually high awareness. When you're talking about roughly 3-1/2 to 1 support over the opposition, I know a lot of politicians would like to have that lead over opponents."

Haynes said BRC tested support by describing the project. Then, they went through a long list of arguments pro and con that have been made or do exist as a matter of record. Then, BRC asked respondents again, and the same margin held up after the second time, Haynes said.

The Trent Franks legislation was then explained to respondents, and they were asked how they would categorize the way they feel about the congressman's bill. Was it best for the community, a principled action? Or, was it a desperate measure? By a 2-1 margin, respondents called it a desperate measure.

The only thing he could compare the poll to was the one BRC conducted for the Tohono O'odham Nation in March 2010, Haynes said.

"And the numbers have strengthened," he said.

There have been a lot of lawsuits, a lot of PR, a lot of statements by other tribes in the area, Haynes said, "and support for the project has grown anyway."

The BRC report will probably be made available to the Tohono O'odham Nation later this week, Haynes said, adding that it was proprietary data, and completely up to the Nation as to its release.

Founded in 1965, the Behavior Research Center is an independent U.S. based firm providing marketing and public opinion research to public and private sector clients. The company designs and conducts projects throughout North America, including the U.S., Canada, Central America and Mexico. Its headquarters is in Phoenix, and it maintains a field office in Antigua, Guatemala. BRC conducts the Rocky Mountain Poll, the Consumer Confidence and Buying Index, and Latino consumer studies.

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