Trent Franks, Arizona Congressman, Proposes Narrow Special-Interest Measure to Block Tohono O'odham Nation's Proposed West Valley Casino
Arizona Congressman Trent Franks introduced -- again -- legislation on Tuesday that, if signed into law, effectively would prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from building a casino in the West Valley.
There are a few bits about H.R. 1410, this latest bill, that are worth pointing out.
Franks proposed similar narrow legislation last year on behalf of state officials, the city of Glendale, the Gila River Indian Reservation, and other tribes that want to stamp out the TON casino and the competition it will bring to existing casinos in the Valley. The legislation failed.
The proposed law reveals just how haphazard the opposition has been against the TON's plans for a casino near 95th and Northern avenues. Opponents of the West Valley casino have lobbed so many bombs that they are now getting caught in their own crossfire, destroying their own arguments.
First, it's interesting to see that Congressman Daniel T. Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, is co-sponsoring Franks' bill.
Kildee was elected to his congressional seat after his uncle, former Congressman Dale Kildee, retired this year. Kildee's now-retired uncle works for Akin Gump, an international powerhouse of attorneys, consultants, and lobbyists.
Surprise, surprise: Akin Gump is the well-paid lobbyist for the Gila River Indian Community. GRIC paid the firm about $2.55 million in 2012 for lobbying expenses alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Kildee's office hasn't responded to New Times' request for comment.
Second, there is the matter of the curious boundary in Franks' bill.
Though not exactly to scale, this map shows Congressman Franks' approximate self-defined boundary of the Phoenix metro area.
New Times illustration
Franks' bill seems to arbitrarily define the Phoenix metro area with an imaginary line described in his bill as "north of latitude 33 degrees, 5 minutes, 13 seconds north.
(That is, north 33.08694 degrees -- at about where the red dashed line cuts across the map.)
But it's not really an arbitrary line. It is strategically drawn just north of the Tohono O'odham Nation's two reservations in Gila Bend and Florence.
Then, his bill proclaims that no new casinos will be allowed north of that demarcation on new lands taken into trust (turned into Indian reservations) until at least 2027.
Considering where the boundary falls, it seems Franks is trying to reinforce the notion that the Tohono O'odham Nation is not a Phoenix-area tribe. But that same boundary blows up his camp's claim that Arizona Indian tribes have reached the supposed seven-casino limit in the Phoenix metro area.
See, one of the key tenets of the opposition has been that the TON is not a Phoenix-area tribe. Critics of the TON say that its leaders are "reservation shopping" outside their aboriginal lands.
And, opponents say, the fourth casino that the Nation has the undisputed legal right to build should be built in Pima County -- along with the three other casinos the tribe operates in southern Arizona -- not in the West Valley or anywhere in the Phoenix metro area.
Franks' definition is odd because when you look at how the feds define the Phoenix metro area for various reasons, such as compiling data for the U.S. Census or U.S. Department of Labor, they include in it both Maricopa and Pinal counties.
Not Franks -- his imaginary line dissects both counties, thereby ensuring that the Tohono O'odham Nation and its reservations are excluded from the area.
Sure, it's his bill and he can define the Phoenix metro area however he wants.
But -- duck, because here comes the crossfire -- in drawing the line where he does, he also excludes the Ak-Chin Maricopa Reservation and its casino, Harrah's Ak-Chin, out of Phoenix area.
(Crafters of the proposed law didn't have a choice but to leave Ak-Chin out since that reservation lines up almost evenly with the TON's Florence and Gila Bend reservations. Just take a look at the map.)
Franks didn't respond to calls for comment.
Remember that all along, Franks, state officials, and the Gila River Indian Community have been squawking that when these gaming compacts were hammered out, there was an agreement that there would be no more than seven casinos in the Phoenix metro area.
In fact, in Franks' failed anti-casino measure last year, he noted: "The Tohono O'odham Nation's proposed casino violates existing Tribal-State gaming compacts and State law, Proposition 202, agreed to by all Arizona Indian tribes, which effectively limits the number of tribal gaming facilities in the Phoenix metropolitan area to seven, which is the current number of facilities operating."
It would be the current number of casinos if Ak-Chin were included in what Franks describes as the Phoenix metro area. But, with the Ak-Chin and its casino out, it means that (by Franks' own definition) there are only six casinos now in the area.
West Valley, time to roll out the red carpet for the Tohono O'odham Nation and casino number seven?
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