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May 17th, 2006 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Betting On The Governor's Race

If you think the Grand Ronde's election ads were everywhere in the primary, wait until this fall.

     
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The tribal casino wars have made Gov. Ted Kulongoski an ad casualty.
By now, virtually every sentient Oregonian has seen, read or heard ads paid for by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde bashing Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

The Grand Ronde-funded group Citizens Against Off-Reservation Casinos shelled out $820,000 in the just-concluded gubernatorial primary, prompting Kulongoski's supporters to complain bitterly.

Yes, Kulongoski infuriated the Grand Ronde tribes by OK'ing a proposal by the Warm Springs tribe to relocate its casino closer to Portland in Cascade Locks. That, of course, would make it Portlanders' nearest tribal gambling outlet, instead of the Grand Ronde tribes' Spirit Mountain casino west of Salem, which is currently closest.

But there's a point most people seem to be missing—and one that should gladden the hearts of ad sales reps across the state looking to collect even more tribal money in the months ahead. Kulongoski's earlier approval of the Warm Springs tribe's Columbia Gorge casino ultimately counted for nothing, and he could still reverse course.

The governor's general counsel, David Reese, acknowledges that the federal Department of Interior nullified the compact Kulongoski and the Warm Springs tribe signed in 2005.

That nullification set in motion a two-step federal test: whether the proposed casino is in the best interest of the tribe, and whether it is detrimental to the surrounding community.

The feds have been working to answer both questions and will roll out a draft answer this summer, with a final response in the fall.

Should they approve the project, it then comes back to the Oregon governor's desk for approval or, technically, "concurrence."

Without the governor's signature at that point, there can be no casino, Reese says.

That's why the ads targeting Kulongoski will continue, and why the pre-primary ads also targeted Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix, who shared Kulongoski's sympathy for the gorge proposal.

In fact, campaign filings with the Secretary of State's Office show that the Grand Ronde tribes have spent equally in the Democratic and Republican primaries. (Kulongoski got all of $300 from the Warm Springs tribes.)

The tribes' hope, says Grand Ronde representative Justin Martin, is that whoever wins the governor's race in November will block the Warm Springs tribe's proposed gorge casino. Martin sees some reason for optimism with Kulongoski.

When he was Oregon's attorney general, Kulongoski penned then-Gov. John Kitzhaber's Indian gaming policy of one casino per tribe, on the rez only. For that reason, in large part, Martin says, the Grand Ronde tribes strongly supported Kulongoski in 2002.

Martin says the tribes were shocked when Kulongoski seemed to change his mind only days after being elected. But the governor's previous flexibility suggests he might reconsider.

"Elected officials have every right to change their minds," Martin says.

So far, however, Kulongoski campaign manager Cameron Johnson says there's been no discussion of giving in to the barrage of negative ads—which are only likely to grow more shrill and numerous in the general election, if Kulongoski wins the primary as expected (election results were not available by press time).

"There's no chance the governor would change his mind," Johnson says. "He's made his decision."

 
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