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Campbell sheds light on McCain gaming bill from 2006

WASHINGTON – Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne former senator and unabashed backer of Sen. John McCain in his bid for the presidency, shed light on a McCain legislative initiative that has come back to haunt him among tribes – his bill in 2005 and 2006, when he chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to change the rules on off-reservation gaming.

The anti-gaming bill has come up regularly in conversation during campaign season as a counter against McCain among Indian leaders and individuals alike.

Though McCain’s bill never came close to becoming law, and ultimately provided a “grandfather” clause that would have exempted would-be gaming tribes that had gone along with the old rules from full compliance with the new ones, many tribes took it as part and parcel of an anti-gaming movement that had gathered steam in California – where counties were pushing the issue, Campbell said. In the House of Representatives, former Republican Rep. Richard Pombo sponsored a bill much stricter than McCain’s.

“That was sort of his re-election bill,” Campbell said. The Pombo bill failed, though not by much, and so did Pombo’s re-election hopes.

McCain’s bill had a much different back story, Campbell related, implicating National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman Phil Hogen.

“I know how that bill got written, because I used to be the chairman [of the SCIA]. And when they [NIGC] wanted to grow their Indian gaming commission, I wouldn’t let ’em, because we were getting letters and direct testimony back from tribes, saying, ‘These guys are being punitive, they’re beating up on us,’ and so on.

“And, I was there in ’88 when we wrote that bill [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] ... and there was nothing supposed to be punitive in that language. We had to have some kind of an overseeing federal agency, but the concept, the congressional intent, was that they would help tribes conform with the law, not muscle them around. ...

“We were getting so much mail about it that I simply wouldn’t give them a budget, so they couldn’t grow it; they couldn’t make a bad situation worse.

“When I left [retired] and McCain took over though [in 2005], they thought, ‘A-ha, new chairman now, we’ll go talk to him.’ And so ... they sort of wrote it for him and talked him into carrying the thing. But he didn’t fight it. ...

“He’s a good friend of mine, but I really opposed that bill, and went and talked to some other senators about the reality, about what that bill would do,” Campbell said. “That bill, very frankly, was written by NIGC, not McCain. Phil Hogen’s folks wrote that bill, and he [McCain] carried it. But to his credit, he didn’t fight for it or push it much. He introduced it. I think he did one hearing or something on it, one or two. But when he realized there was some opposition in Indian country, and the bill was badly written, he didn’t force it, he didn’t fight for it.”

Campbell’s account supports others given anonymously, including one that ascribes Hogen’s recent regulatory maneuvers on Class II and Class III classification standards to a likely lack of political backing on Capitol Hill during the current 110th Congress of 2007 and 2008.