- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Northern California tribe wanted help opening a casino on land 40 miles from its reservation, so it turned to a U.S. senator — from Colorado.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican, helped write three sentences into a bill that will help the Enterprise Rancheria tribe turn the piece of pasture in California’s Yuba County into tribal land.

It was one of three instances in recent months in which California tribes sought congressional help to expand their reservations over local opposition. Two of the projects were included in a Campbell bill that has become law, and the bill including the Yuba County project still is awaiting Senate action.

The sentences supporting the Enterprise Rancheria casino in Yuba County don’t mention the tribe’s name, its location or even a word about gambling.

“If the bill were to give away the tribe’s name or to specify Yuba County, we are afraid it would come to the attention of Rep. [Wally] Herger, or our other opponents … who would demand that he stop the legislation, which he could and probably would do,” tribal attorney James E. Cohen wrote last April to members of the Enterprise Rancheria.

Mr. Herger, California Republican, represents Yuba County, north of Sacramento.

The e-mail was provided to the Associated Press by Cheryl Schmit of Stand Up for California, an outspoken critic of tribal gambling. Mr. Cohen did not respond to several requests for comment.

Critics charge that tribes are using their political clout to circumvent state and local laws, leaving communities with little say over what happens on or near neighboring reservations.

“I don’t think we’ll ever live to see anything more corrupting than gambling as far as governance is concerned,” said Robert Coffin, a lawyer advising the city of San Diego in a dispute with the Barona tribe over a water pipeline. “Who can stop it?”

The tribes’ approach is legal and mirrors lobbying by corporations and others.

Tribal sovereignty also shields them from most state and local laws and taxes, meaning that they typically do not have to seek approval from local municipalities.

The land for the Yuba County casino would be compensation for land the tribe sold to the state in the 1960s that now is submerged by a reservoir.

The Campbell bill that has become law, signed by President Bush earlier this month, aided the Barona tribe in its efforts to build a 1-mile pipeline to its San Diego County casino, hotel and golf course.

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