Since my return to Seattle more than seven years ago, I have noted many changes in the state and local political cultures. The most disappointing has been the degree to which supposedly "liberal" governors, legislators, mayors and others accept as business-as-usual policies and practices which are shockingly self-interested and against the interests of a majority of their constituents.
At state level, there are the "tax expenditures" — loopholes and subsidies — extended to individual companies and entire sectors which have cut a huge hole in the state revenue base, which then is replenished with largely regressive taxes on those least able to pay. There are the almost automatic grantings of pay increases and other benefits sought by powerful public-employee and teachers' unions. And, of course, the allocation of massive public funds to cost-ineffective public works boondoggles such as the Allentown trolley and Sound Transit light rail.
Having grown inured to such actions, I nonetheless was shocked by Chris McGann's story in the Friday morning Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporting on Indian tribes' campaign payoffs of $650,000 to the state Democratic party, and $49,000 directly to Gov. Chris Gregoire, in return for Gregoire's 2005 killing of a gambling compact which could have brought more than $140 million in annual revenues to the state. The compact Gregoire renegotiated with the Spokane tribe brings no revenue to the state. (The tribes' $650,000 contributions to the state Democratic party constituted more than a third of the total $1.6 million the party has contributed to Gregoire's campaign war chest since 2004).
The casino culture has changed dramatically the overall tribal culture of many Indian tribes in western states — and not for the better. Some tribes refuse casinos on their lands, despite the revenues they could bring. But that is another matter.
The big headline in the tribal payoff to Gregoire is that 22 other states collect big money annually from tribal gambling. Tribal-casino revenues in Washington amounted to $1.34 billion last year. In many states, attempts are being made to change the formulas in state-tribal compacts so as to bring greater revenues to the states. Washington has taken an opposite course, leaving the state empty-handed while tribes and casino operators profit big time.
As McGann's piece pointed out, the compact negotiated by Gregoire includes a provision allowing tribes to expand casino operations without revenue sharing. Twenty-seven of the state's 29 federally recognized tribes signed onto the Spokane compact.
McGann's well researched piece quoted Prof. William Thompson, a University of Nevada at Las Vegas authority on tribal gaming, as stating that "she [Gregoire] shouldn't take any campaign money [from tribes], nor should her political party, and it smells too quid pro quo.... The [federal] 1988 Indian Gaming Act dictates how the tribes may spend the money they get from gambling. There is nothing in there that allows them to spend the money on political campaigns." Beyond that, Thompson said, the Legislature should have been involved in any such compact.
State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, Democrat, Seattle, stated that "by the time anybody in the Legislature heard about it, it was a done deal ... That's a lot of money we gave them [the tribes] without getting anything back."
Wait a minute, Sen. Jacobsen: Gregoire and Co. got plenty back. It just didn't benefit anyone else in the state.