October 20, 2002
S.D. tribe's casino plan stalls bill
Rep. Hunter's fight against Alpine hall leads to standoff
By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – A congressional fight over a San Diego County
Indian tribe got in the middle of the nation's business last week,
holding up plans for parks, trails, water improvements and
wildlife preservation in just about every state in the country.
The dispute between Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and two
Michigan lawmakers erupted over Hunter's attempt to block an
Indian tribe from building a gambling hall in Alpine in his
Hunter's plan is part of a larger bill that holds nearly 150 state
projects – a bill the Michigan legislators refused to back unless
Hunter pulled the tribal provision out. When Hunter refused, the
standoff persuaded congressional leaders to pull the bill from
the House floor rather than watch it fail.
As a result, many lawmakers were "very disappointed" that their
projects – which are often a way to show voters they care about
local interests – were shelved until after Election Day, one
congressional staffer said.
"This bill is about a collection of small projects – in virtually
every state of the nation – that members wanted to get done for
their districts," said Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for the Ho use
Resources Committee, which put together the massive
legislation. "Creating a small park, expanding a park, expanding
public lands, doing more for wildlife habitat.
"Republicans and Democrats throughout the House had plans for
their districts they were looking to get passed. There is a lot of
personal attachment and local identity that goes into these
projects, so I think this was discouraging for all of them."
Hunter spokesman Mike Harrison said the congressman should
not be blamed for holding up the larger bill. He said the two
Michigan representatives – Democrat Dale Kildee and
Republican Joseph Knollenberg – are responsible.
"Congressman Hunter is not holding anything up," Harrison said.
"Knollenberg and Kildee are holding things up."
At the heart of the dispute is the Cuyapaipe tribe's plan to build a
casino on Alpine land that now holds a health clinic used by
tribe members. The clinic sits on land that was put in federal
trust in 1986 under the Cuyapaipe name, but on behalf of seven
Not all of the seven tribes like the casino idea, however. Hunter's
plan would have put a one-year moratorium on casino
construction until all the tribes could agree on how to use the
Hunter has tried before to block the casino's construction, but
his bills have not passed the Senate. He hoped to be successful
this time by putting his plan into the House Resources
But last week, shortly before the House was to vote on the bill,
Kildee and Knollenberg insisted they would oppose it if Hunter
kept his provision in. Just one "no" vote could kill the bill, since
it required unanimous approval. Because the three could not
work out their differences, the House Resources Committee
chairman, James V. Hansen, R-Utah, shelved the legislation until
after Election Day, rather than risk its failure on the House floor.
Chris Close, a Knollenberg spokesman, explained that his boss
opposed Hunter's plan because it "singles out one tribe."
"Tribes should all be treated equally," Close said.
National and local politics, however, appeared to play a big part
in the development.
Knollenberg and Kildee are among Congress' fiercest champions
of tribal rights. Moreover, Kildee – whose office did not return
phone calls – is Congress' top recipient of campaign gifts from
tribal-run casinos. He also has close ties to the principal investor
in the Cuyapaipe casino.
As for local politics: The eight-member Cuyapaipe tribe
(pronounced Wee-ah-pie) wants to build its gambling house less
than two miles from a casino operated by the larger – and some
say better-connected – Viejas tribe, which has 250 members.
"This isn't about health care," said Michael Garcia, Cuyapaipe's
vice chairman. "The (Hunter) bill is about stopping us from
building a casino because of competition. (The Viejas) have just
had a longer relationship (with Hunter) than we have had."
Nikki Symington, a spokeswoman for the Viejas tribe,
acknowledged that "for 10 years we've worked with Duncan
Hunter and we've worked with the community." At the same
time, she said, the Cuyapaipe agreed to a health clinic on the site
where it now wants a casino.
"I think the Viejas tribe is saying . . . we don't need another
reservation or casino in Alpine," she said.
The Cuyapaipe is one of a dozen tribes in San Diego County that
signed state compacts for casino gambling. Nine tribes in the
region already operate casinos.
Funk said the Resources Committee will probably break up the
bill so Hunter's provision is no longer included – or at least so it
no longer hinders the bill's progress. The earliest that would
happen, she said, is Nov. 12.
That's not good news for those running for re-election Nov. 5. It
is standard for politicians to pass legislation that directly
benefits their constituents shortly before an election, then to
tout their efforts in the final days of campaigning.
At least one of the local projects in the bill was related to San
Diego. Written by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Escondido,
it called on federal officials to work with Mexico to allow San
Diegans to fish the waters near the Revillagigedo Islands of
Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.