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Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Commentary

GOP gaming foes try to impose own tenets


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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.





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