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Former chairwoman announces bid for legislature

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Former Morongo chairwoman and current council member Mary Ann Andreas is now seeking a larger council seat, one in the California State Assembly.

On July 11, Andreas announced that she would challenge incumbent Republican Bonnie Garcia for the 80th Assembly district which covers the southern border areas of the state including the agriculturally rich, but economically poor Imperial Valley.

Andreas would be the first American Indian woman to serve in the state Assembly though reports in the press have indicated that former Democratic Assemblyman Chester B. Wray, who later served on drafting the Democratic platform in 2000, is American Indian, though no one could confirm his tribal affiliation.

When asked about her stance on the issues Andreas, like most political candidates in the early stages their campaigns remains slightly evasive on specific remedies for the problems that are currently plaguing California and instead calls for the more ubiquitous jobs, education and anti-poverty plank.

In terms of jobs, Andreas points out that Imperial County has an unemployment rate of 18 percent, a full 12 points above the national average. She claims that the only way to improve these fortunes is to create a more business friendly climate for potential employers to bring jobs to the state.

One of the biggest problems facing the state is how to bridge a $38 billion budget deficit that has paralyzed the state legislature on delivering a budget that was due on July 1.

She lists the collapse of the technology industry and utility deregulation among other factors that have contributed to the state budget crisis. Andreas takes aim at those who blame the problem on Gov. Gray Davis, who in all likelihood will face a recall election.

Though she does not go as far as calling for an end to utility deregulation she does blame California Senate minority leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and former Gov. Pete Wilson for masterminding the deregulation debacle in the state legislature in 1996.

In terms of Indian issues, Andreas feels that her background will finally give American Indians a voice in a state where Indian representation in government has been practically nonexistent.

Vowing to protect tribal sovereignty, Andreas maintains that the legislature would benefit from having a voice that has experienced the issue from the tribal side.

One of the big issues effecting Indian country in California is Public Law 280, the law that gives the state jurisdictional authority over tribal lands. Andreas says that while most tribes oppose the law there are some smaller tribes that can not pay for police protection and rely on the state to provide law enforcement. Andreas vows that she will meet with tribes from throughout the state to decide which law enforcement solution would work best for them.

When asked where on the political spectrum she stands, Andreas states unequivocally that she is "definitely not a liberal" and considers herself "generally moderate." However, she has already received the endorsement of one of the most liberal members of the state Assembly, Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles.

"I don't draw an ideological line when it comes to people that I think would be good leaders," says Goldberg, who says that she has previously supported candidates who disagree with her on certain issues.

One of the reasons that Goldberg says that she is supporting Andreas is what she describes as her proven leadership abilities with the tribe and other community organizations, such as the Riverside County Workforce Development Board as well as others.

Another reason, says Goldberg, is the current Assemblywoman from the 80th Assembly District, Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, whom Goldberg describes as "missing on issues" because she has not voted for either the Republican or Democratic budget proposals.

Both Andreas and Goldberg take shots at Garcia for changing her vote at the last minute on a bill that would have banned the use of American Indian mascots for public school sports teams in California. Garcia had indicated that she would vote for the measure, but at the last minute changed her mind.

Calls to Garcia's office were not returned before press time.

Media pundits have speculated that Andreas might have a fairly good shot in the district, in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 45 percent to 38 percent. However, Garcia, who is Puerto Rican, has proven herself to be a tough campaigner by taking the district in a heavily financed fight last year against her Democratic opponent Joey Acuna.

Andreas has had a long career in Indian country. Born 57 years ago into a poverty-stricken Morongo family Andreas later attended Harvard University and eventually rose to prominence in her tribe serving four terms as tribal chairwoman.

During her tenure as a Morongo leader, she saw the band go from obscure poverty to a major political player in the state, due in large part to a successful casino operated by the tribe just off Interstate 10, the major thoroughfare between Los Angeles and the resort town of Palm Springs.

However, it was not all blind luck as Andreas proved herself to be a major political force in her own right. In 2000 she, along with Yurok tribal chairwoman Sue Masten, addressed the Democratic National Convention becoming the first American Indian women to do so.

Andreas also led a 50-tribe delegation in gaming negotiations with Gov. Davis in 1999.