It was about 4:50 p.m. Arizona time Nov. 16, when the U.S. House of Representatives failed to meet the two-thirds threshold for suspension of rules and passage of H.R. 308 Keep the Promise Act. It was 263 yea votes to 146 nay votes, approximately 28 votes shy of a super majority, the number required on a bill on the suspension of rules calendar.
The bill, once passed in the Senate and signed by President Obama, would have essentially prohibited the Diamond Desert Casino – West Valley from opening its doors Dec. 20 as scheduled.
Following the bill’s defeat, Congressman Trent Franks issued the following statement:
“To allow a casino to be constructed on this tract of land is to set a dangerous precedent nationwide in which Indian tribes can use front companies to buy up land anywhere they choose and declare it part of their sovereign reservation. Such ‘reservation shopping’ could essentially allow any tribe to expand the borders of its reservation indefinitely, much like the Tohono O’odham tribe is attempting to do by illegally building a casino in the middle of Glendale, over 100 miles from the tribe’s actual reservation.
“This bill and its passage would have served as a friendly reminder that the limits on casinos specifically promised back in 2002 during debate on Proposition 202 should be realized. Though this bill received a majority, it failed to reach the 2/3 threshold necessary. Unfortunately, Congress failed to reassert its long established history of regulating, managing, and working with tribes on tribal trust land, specifically where this unlawful casino is being built. I am disappointed that some of my colleagues voted to allow the Tohono O’odham tribe to disregard their end of the deal and dishonor their promise to the other tribes and to Arizonans.”
Congressman Raul Grijalva called the liability the bill created for American taxpayers a “taking of the Tohono O’odham Nation.” He said it overturned 18 administrative and judicial decisions, and created selective sovereignty, and nullified the tribe’s ability to create economic development.
Grijalva called into question the House scenario that placed H.R. 308 above national security issues and other funding issues brought forth by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
His colleague in the House from Arizona, Congressman Ruben Gallegos, told the House he stood with thousands of voices and jobs.
“This is an immense and welcome addition to the community,” Gallegos said. “The job fair drew 3,000 applicants from the community, and 400 were hired on site. This bill would put those people out of work.”
Congressman Paul Gosar said jobs should not be used by criminal extortion, using an argument earlier that the Nation had won nothing in court, that its actions were “shameful, deceitful and criminal,” that it had acted “covertly and immorally” in its purchase of the land at 95th and Northern avenues.
Grijalva countered with reference to 18 court and federal agency rulings in favor of the Nation, saying, “Obviously, the law in 1986 means nothing, 18 court rulings mean nothing. We heard just now the Tohono O‘odham Nation won nothing.”
Grijalva said the court rulings confirm that if H.R. 308 passed, the Nation would be deprived of its right to use its land and could seek up to $1 billion in compensation. In its report, the Congressional Budget Office said the Nation expected to earn $100 million annually in its first five years of operation of its casino in the West Valley.
Last week, workers continued to press on with the interim casino.
There were 905 Class II slot machines standing on the floor of the as yet unfinished casino Nov. 12, the same day the Nation’s gaming operation was serving a free lunch to 300 to 400 workers on site.
As they enjoyed the barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, fixin’s and dessert, TO Nation Chairman Edward Manuel spoke to them about how important their work was.
In a private interview, Manuel talked about H.R. 308, Keep the Promise Act, introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and placed on the Nov. 16 suspension of rules calendar for a vote.
“If it gets on the floor, Congress will vote on it,” Manuel said last week. “They tried before and it didn’t get on.”
The first time, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Dist. 3, Arizona) raised the point it was a controversial bill and should not be on the suspension of rules calendar. He also pointed to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the estimated cost of H.R. 308, which set the price at $1 billion.
Nov. 12, the CBO sent a letter to Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, stating the same price of $1 billion on Senate Resolution 152, the mirror bill of H.R. 308.
“And suspension is not supposed to be controversial or have a price on it,” Manuel continued.
He mentioned how the Nation began building the interim casino a year ago, but only after looking into the compact, Proposition 202 and the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“We met all the requirements of those laws,” Manuel said, “and we looked at all the lawsuits and rulings. We’re in compliance. We’ve put $200 million already in this project. There are 1,300 contractors from 80 different companies working, and we also employed 500 permanent employees long-term for the casino. These people are looking for a career with benefits, and all that’s going to go away if there is no casino.
“When we go to Phase II and III, it is going to require more construction employees, and when we complete the full project, it’s going to stimulate economic development in the area. That’s what we’re looking at, for Glendale and surrounding communities.”
Following the Nov. 16 vote in the House, Manuel was more positive.
He said, “Today, David beat Goliath again. The special interests spent $17 million trying to rush this harmful bill through, but in the end, it came down to the facts. The more that members of Congress examine this legislation, the more they recognize how harmful it is for Arizona workers, the Nation, and tribes across the U.S.”