GOP gaming foes try to impose own
Guest opinion by Sen. Clint Stennett
and Rep. Wendy Jaquet
Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, is
Senate Minority Leader in the Idaho Legislature. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D.-Ketchum,
is House Minority Leader.
As members of the minority leadership, we
were taken aback and totally by surprise June 3 during a regular meeting of the
Legislative Council. The council is made up of the leaders and appointed members
of both houses to meet and discuss, among other things, the operations of the
Legislature, and make decisions to improve on the process.
No one was prepared for the motion
proposed and supported by the Republican majority: to direct the Legislative
Council to pursue the question whether devices used by the tribes are slot
machines in violation of the Idaho Constitution. This would require the attorney
general to hire outside counsel because of a conflict of interest. The motion
passed easily over our strong objections and "no" vote.
What does this action mean to the citizens
of Idaho? For starters, the voters in 2002 overwhelmingly approved an initiative
that authorized the tribes to conduct the gambling operations in place at that
time. Some Republican legislators didn't like that and tried a legal challenge
of the initiative in court. However, both the Idaho Supreme Court and a federal
court judge refused to take up the matter. The gambling opponents declined to
pursue further litigation because it would be too costly and they didn't have
the money. Apparently, most members of the Legislative Council believe the
citizens of Idaho have the money.
So, we, and every taxpayer in the state
are footing the bill. The further irony is that we are paying to sue and defend
ourselves on this issue. The attorney general is required to defend the
initiative, which is the law. With this directive from the Legislative Council,
the attorney general must hire an outside lawyer to bring the lawsuit. We're
paying for both sides! Regardless of the outcome, we are the losers.
We strongly object to the manner in which
this action was accomplished. It came at the end of our meeting, under
"miscellaneous" business, without prior notice and with no media present.
Additionally, we question whether the Legislative Council has any authority to
direct the attorney general to file a lawsuit in the first place. On whose
behalf is the suit filed?
Lets us look beyond the costs associated
with this lawsuit. The people of this state made it clear that they supported
the tribes' efforts to improve their economic condition by conducting gaming on
their reservations. The Republican-controlled Legislative Council, comprising a
small proportion of the Legislature, seeks to circumvent not only their own
caucus, but more reprehensibly, the vast majority of people they were elected to
represent. Sound familiar? (Not long ago, the Republican-controlled Legislature
overturned the will of the people by repealing term limits.)
Regardless of your position on tribal
gaming, we must take exception to this latest attempt to impose the will of a
few on all of us. We are outraged that in these times of fiscal shortfall
bordering on crisis, that these few have chosen to further burden the taxpayers
with the added costs associated with unnecessary and lengthy litigation that can
only have a lose-lose outcome for our citizens.