Friday, October 29, 2004

A battle of brawn over Indian gaming

Jesse Ventura joins California’s own actor-turned-politico in fray over Prop. 70

The Proposition 70 campaign has become a governor-sized smackdown between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

A new television ad, produced by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which has spent about $35 million on gaming initiatives in recent years, features former Minnesota Gov. Ventura jabbing at Schwarzenegger’s "Indians are ripping off California" comment.

The San Manuel say the ad is not part of the Yes on 70 campaign.

But Ventura’s musclebound, celebrity-turned-governor counterpart from California doesn’t see it that way and he’s jabbing back.

Schwarzenegger, who has been strident in efforts to convince voters to defeat Proposition 70, the ballot initiative that would allow tribes to expand table games and slot machines in exchange for a state corporate tax, called Ventura’s jab "really funny" during a radio appearance Wednesday in Sacramento.

"A guy from Minneapolis is coming in here and getting involved in this," Schwarzenegger told KTKZ listeners. "But that’s what you have friends for, you know? That’s what they’re for."

Ventura says in the TV ad sent to broadcast across the state that "California Indians are becoming self-reliant, but the government is trying to exploit them again."

Tribal governments offered to share revenues at the same rate other businesses pay -- no less, no more, says Ventura, who appeared in at least two films with Schwarzenegger, "Predator" and "Batman and Robin."

Who’s ripping whom?

Ventura goes on to accuse Schwarzenegger of unfairly demanding tribal governments to pay three times more than other businesses. "Didn’t the governor promise a balanced budget without raising taxes?" he asked, before delivering the punch, "I guess it’s OK to rip off Indians."

The line refers to Schwarzenegger’s statements during the Proposition 70 campaign that some tribes are "ripping off" California by refusing to pay the state an appropriate sum of revenues. The governor has asserted passage of the Agua Caliente-backed Proposition 70 will invoke a "99-year monopoly" on gaming for Indian tribes, and put in place a system with "no auditing and no checking of how much money they make."

Tribal leaders have called the governor’s comment about Indians "ripping off" California racially tinged.

Todd Harris, a "No on Prop. 68 and 70" strategist for Schwarzenegger, said supporters of the gaming initiative may be ramping up the fight with Ventura’s appearance and the TV spot by Hollywood actress Stefanie Powers, but the governor’s tactics won’t change.

"I don’t think most voters look to actors from the ’80s for their cues on how to vote," Harris said.

Spot an ‘education effort’

Jacob Coin, communications director for the San Manuel, said Ventura was paid to appear in the commercial -- at a price the tribe has opted not to reveal -- because he had the same "kind of attitude" on Indian gaming when he was elected governor of Minnesota in November 1998.

After Ventura got to know the tribes, which operate casinos in Minnesota with no revenue sharing program for the state and with compacts that run in perpetuity, Ventura came to understand the impact Indian gaming can have on the economy of local communities and vendors.

"The ad alludes to the issues raised in Proposition 70," Coin said.

"But clearly, it is the tribe’s effort to educate the people in California about the issues of tribal government on its face," all of which are predicated on the Supreme Court ruling that tribal nations have the right to conduct gaming on their land without state or local government interference.

"I know all that," Harris said, before adding, "Somebody should be fired for political malpractice."

"This is a huge waste of money on their part, but if they want to blow their money on a commercial like this, we say, more power to them," Harris said, alluding to a media buy which may have cost more than $1 million. "It just reinforces the idea that these tribes are already making a killing: I mean, they must have an awful lot of money to burn if they’re spending millions of dollars on a commercial like this. What remains to be seen is how much they paid Ventura for it."

Big stakes, big money

A record-breaking amount of funds, $105 million, has flowed into campaign coffers for the Proposition 70 and Proposition 68 campaigns, according to finance reports filed through Oct. 16, which include totals raised and spent for the year.

Proposition 68 is the other gaming measure on the ballot. Put forth by card clubs and racetracks, it would expand slots at these sites, off Indian reservations.

Within that period, Proposition 70 proponents reported raising $26.1 million, with the largest contributor to "70 Yes" being the Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs, donating $13.7 million; the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians of the San Bernadino area, donating $11 million and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians of Banning, giving $3.5 million.

Tribes have pointed out that the governor is campaigning on taxpayer time.

And regardless of when Ventura’s ad ran, Coin said, someone would have criticized it.

"We believe Jesse Ventura is an appropriate person to help remind the governor there are issues far greater than campaign rhetoric," Coin said. "It speaks to the very heart of what tribal government is all about: It helps them create economies within their jurisdiction."

Comparing strongmen

Observers of Minnesota politics say former Gov. Ventura sounded many of the same campaign themes as Schwarzenegger, so the lobs represent an interesting contradiction.

In 1998, Ventura ran as an outsider who would overcome a partisan climate in the statehouse.

But William Thompson, a public administration professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, hired to conduct research for a firm representing tribes on the defeat of Proposition 68, an initiative which would have put slots in California card rooms and racetracks, said he knows Ventura was on "talking terms" with Minnesota tribes because events were filmed with a casino in the background while he was governor.

At the same time, Thompson said, he hopes voters put more stock in the language of the ballot initiatives than the celebrity media spots.

"I don’t like this celebrity stuff in elections," he said. "It represents a visceral negative on money spent in a campaign, whether you’re Republican or Democrat."

Transcript of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Interview with Eric Hogue, KTKZ Sacramento
(Provided by: The governor’s office)

Time: 8:50 a.m.
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

HOGUE: -- to have him, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger joins us now. Good morning, Governor.

GOVERNOR: Good morning, Eric. How are you?

HOGUE: I am doing fine, and it's great to have you this morning on a busy schedule that has you leaving California, going to my home state of Ohio, and campaigning for the president, sir.

GOVERNOR: Well, thank you. Let me tell you, I'm looking forward to this trip. We're leaving here on Friday morning and going to get in there, and we're going to participate in a big rally they're going to have in Columbus.

Of course in Columbus -- I have a long history with Columbus because I won the Mr. World competition there in 1970, and ever since then the city has brought me great luck. I've been going back there many times since then, you know, for business, and establishing after-school programs and promoting my movies, visiting friends, investing money there.

And of course the Arnold Classic, which is the world bodybuilding championship, we have been holding there and promoting for the last -- well, since 1976 -- so for the last 28 years. So it's really wonderful to go back there again, this time, of course, for a very important reason, and this is to re-elect President Bush.

HOGUE: You know, it's the first time you go back to Ohio -- of course, you've done great work there in the past -- but now the governor of California, off of your endorsement speech at the convention. And yesterday, when you were campaigning for Gary Podesto in Vacaville, you mentioned the fact that you feel and believe that this is similar to Ronald Reagan and the former president's work against communism, with the president against terrorism here. Is that true, sir?

GOVERNOR: Well, you know -- I mean, I have a very good memory. I remember that, you know, I was, you know, a big fan of President Reagan. And I remember that in the '80s it was the same thing, there were protests all over the world about, you know, warmonger, and the guy that wants to start the nuclear war, and wants to start Star Wars, and confronting the Russians, and, you know, this is disastrous, and all these kinds of things, you know? And he's not popular overseas, and it was like a really unbelievable kind of attack on him, because he was very strong and he confronted the issues straight on and he did not, you know, back down.

And so I said to myself, you know, now, this period reminds me very much of the 80s when President Reagan confronted communism and eventually, even though he was criticized by so many, you know, peace loving people -- which of course we all are peace loving people -- but sometimes you have to fight for peace, and you have to fight the enemies, and you know, confront them.

And that's what President Bush is doing now with terrorism. You know, he confronts it head-on, he does not back off, he does not waiver, he doesn't blink. He's staying in there strong. And that's what I like about the President, that he has, you know, tremendous strength inside and he stays in there. And I think that people will vote for him because of that.

HOGUE: You know, Governor, there's been so much in the media -- and I call it shock and awe -- that you're actually, as a Republican governor, going to go and campaign for the President in Ohio. Are you surprised with the media, you know, stumbling upon the fact that you are a Republican here? I mean, how do you answer all the press who try to be shocked over this endorsement here, sir?

GOVERNOR: Well, I mean, first of all, you have to understand, the press is absolutely correct about making something out of it, because it is an interesting story. It's an interesting story, because here I am, a Republican governor in a state that has a majority of Democrats. So that's already very odd.

Number two, I have been very bipartisan. I have brought both of the parties together, and that's why we accomplished so much this last year, from the 15 billion dollar recovery bond to the balanced budget initiative, Workers' Compensation reform, budget, all of those things were done in a bipartisan way.

Now all of a sudden, here I am, the bipartisan guy that now goes out and votes, endorses, and promotes, you know, and campaigns for George W. Bush to get re-elected. So that's interesting.

Then I'm also, you know, married to a Democratic wife who comes from this, you know, historic family, and my mother-in-law is right now here staying with us, so we have interesting discussions ever day about politics, Democrats versus Republicans, Kerry versus Bush, and all that stuff.

So I think there are interesting stories there. You know, how does that all play, and how does this work out? And so I totally agree with the press. It is interesting, people like to read about it, and they're fascinated.

For me it 's a balancing act, of course, because if I don't campaign for President Bush the Republicans will be angry. I f I do campaign for President Bush the Democrats are angry. And so I think there's a happy medium, which I made very clear, that I will not go and travel around the country with the President because my work is here, I have to pay attention to all the propositions here. I was sent to Sacramento to work for the people of California. But I will go to Ohio and campaign for President Bush and do this one stop, because I am a Republican and I want to support my Republican president.

HOGUE: Well, and the word back here, in state you've been marvelous on -- I know right now 68 is not a concern, because they pulled away. 70 is still on the ballot, and a no on 70 would help us out in the future. And let me just get you --

GOVERNOR: Well, 70 is very important, and as a matter of fact I just heard, just recently, that even Jesse Ventura, my pal --

HOGUE: M-hmm?

GOVERNOR: -- had done a commercial for -- in favor of Proposition 70, which is really funny. A guy from Minneapolis is coming in here and getting involved in this. But that's what you have friends for, you know? That's what they're for.

But in any case, it is important for people to know that this is the worst proposition, Proposition 70, because it is a 99-year monopoly of Indian gaming tribes, and unlimited amounts of slot machines with no auditing and no checking of how much money they make, and if the machines pay out the right amount of money. So I am totally against that. I think that all the newspapers, all the columnists are against it. There is a huge coalition of different organizations that are against it. I think the people should vote no on Proposition 70.

HOGUE: Well, I agree. I want to see you do more work on your compacts and the contracts that you have initiated on your own. I think that's where we ought to lend the weight.

Let me set you up on a great concern that I have and a lot of folks have, and that's Proposition 66, this weakening of the three-strikes. You're going to begin to come back after the Bush endorsement and then work on this one as well, right sir?

GOVERNOR: Well first of all, I'm working on it right now. As you know, we have held a huge press conference last week about Proposition 66 to let the people know -- as a matter of fact, it was Democrats and Republicans, labor and businesses, and also the victims of rape and child molest and all this -- all were there at the news conference. And we all came out, together with our Attorney General Bill Lockyer, to basically say to the people, vote no on Proposition 66 because it will basically let out criminals, dangerous criminals, from prisons all over the state. And these are murderers, these are rapists, these are child molesters that will be getting out of prison and into your neighborhoods, and your neighborhoods will not be safe.

And it is a terrible idea, because we had a high crime rate in the beginning of the '90s. Then the people voted, with a 72 percent majority, for the three-strike system. Since then crime has been reduced dramatically, more than half of the national average. Homicide went down by 40 percent since then. So why do we want to change it now? Why do we want to weaken it? Why do we want to let the criminals go out there roaming the streets and making it dangerous?

I'm so against that, and I think the rest of the state will be against it. And this is why I'm campaigning very heavily, and we have a TV spot coming out this -- as a matter of fact, today. It will have me in a TV spot saying no on Proposition 66.

HOGUE: You're going to Ohio to endorse and campaign for the President, and yet a concern about a pumpkin yesterday. I can assure you, Governor, that in Ohio all of the pumpkins are Republican.

GOVERNOR: I hope so.

HOGUE: No pumpkins that look like Senator Kennedy. Governor, we thank you for your time. Go got 'em there in the Buckeye State. And when you get back, we've got your back for a brand new session. We appreciate your time today.

GOVERNOR: Terrific. And make sure the people know to vote yes on Proposition 64, the shakedown lawsuits, and no on Proposition 72, which is a job killer. Thank you very much.

HOGUE: Governor, thank you.

GOVERNOR: Thank you. Bye-bye.

HOGUE: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, bye-bye. Giving his time, and of course --

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