‘Enemy of sovereignty’ to seek US Senate seat

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HARTFORD, Conn. – A popular state attorney general with an anti-Indian sovereignty reputation is making a bid for the U.S. Senate.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Jan. 6 that he will seek the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Chris Dodd, who has served five terms, said a day earlier he would not seek re-election in the 2010 race.

Blumenthal began a press conference with Connecticut Democrats in Hartford with praise for Dodd.

“I’m also here to say that I intend to be a candidate for the United States Senate. I’ll be making a formal announcement very, very shortly, but I want to leave no doubt today that I intend to be a candidate and I have the goal of fighting as tirelessly and tenaciously in the U.S. Senate for the people of Connecticut as I have done for the last two decades as attorney general. I will be a fighter in Washington for change. I will stand strong against scams and special interests,” Blumenthal said to loud applause.

Blumenthal, who has been the state’s attorney general since 1991, is popular in his home state.

Not so much in Indian country.

According to his state biography, the attorney general has advocated “aggressive law enforcement for consumer protection, environmental stewardship, labor rights and personal privacy.”

But throughout Indian country, Blumenthal is known for advocating aggressively against tribal sovereignty, federal recognition, and tribal governments’ jurisdiction on tribal land, and for leading other state attorneys general to join him in court cases that aim to diminish tribal sovereignty.

For example, Blumenthal intervened in San Manuel v. the National Labor Relations Board in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court disregarded 75 years of tribal exemption and ruled that federal labor laws apply on sovereign Indian land.

He also led a coalition of more than a dozen state attorneys general to intervene in the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s efforts to place 31 acres of land into trust for elder housing. The years-long case wended its way through district court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in the tribe’s favor, and ended up last year as Carcieri v. Salazar in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the Interior secretary does not have the authority to take land into trust for tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

In November, Blumenthal testified in front of the House Resources Committee against legislation to fix Carcieri v. Salazar. He recommended, among other things, that “Congress should have sole authority to approve post-1934 tribal trust land requests.”

In Connecticut, Blumenthal has fought the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe on land claims, land into trust, taxation, jurisdiction on tribal land over labor issues, sovereign immunity, smoking bans in casinos, and other issues.

But he is perhaps most notoriously known for his successful effort in 2005 to reverse the federal acknowledgment of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.

Blumenthal worked with Dodd and the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, state and local elected officials in the town of Kent where the Schaghticoke Nation has a 400-acre reservation, and a group of wealthy casino-opposing Kent land owners, who hired the power lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith and Rogers to pressure the BIA to overturn its decision to acknowledge the tribe.

Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Indian Nation, a New York state recognized tribe that has not sought federal acknowledgment, was dismayed by the news of Blumenthal’s possible election to the Senate.

“I don’t think that’s good for Indian country. I think he’d certainly be an enemy of sovereignty. I think he will be someone who will bring his prejudicial notions of Indian tribes and Indian nations and his political influence against the tribes of Connecticut, and spread that further across the country. I think he’ll be an impediment to sovereignty and issues of land claims, taxation, economic development, security – all these things.”