Martin and Moorehead: McCain ‘clear-eyed’ on Indian development

We all know that Indian gaming has not been the panacea for all that ails tribal economies. In 2008, Indian communities still have large pockets of poverty, joblessness and economic stagnation, and these problems are preventing Native people from achieving their full potential.

We think that the candidate with a clear-eyed blueprint for economic development in Indian country is John McCain. We believe this because of his long record on these important issues.

John McCain understands that tribal governments know the real needs of the membership and routinely outperform the federal agencies when it comes to program management and delivery of housing, health, roads and other services. That’s why McCain has been the strongest supporter of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and the Tribal Self-Governance Act.

You already know that Sen. McCain co-authored the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and has continually sought to strengthen the regulatory aspect of Indian gaming to preserve it as a viable option for those tribes that choose to conduct gaming on their own lands.

But you may not know that John McCain has a long record of supporting tribal economies and has historically pushed for legislation which increases the participation of tribes in the American economy. Here are several examples.

 John McCain understands that tribal governments know the real needs of the membership and routinely outperform the federal agencies when it comes to program management and delivery of housing, health, roads, and other services.

Sen. McCain knows that some tribes will probably not be able to succeed in gaming simply because they are geographically disadvantaged and not located near a population center to patronize gaming operations. That is why McCain supports tribes that want to develop their energy resources, whether those resources are oil, gas and coal or whether they are solar, wind and hydro. The fact is, Indian tribes own vast reserves of energy resources and, if developed, would generate hundreds of billions of dollars for the tribes and their members.

Strong, capable, transparent governments based on the rule of law provide the kind of legal and regulatory environments in which businesses flourish. McCain knows this and the Indian Tribal Courts Act bears his unmistakable imprint.

McCain knows that attracting capital investment is crucial for tribal economies to build the physical infrastructure so crucial for businesses to use. It was McCain who succeeded in getting the Indian economic development tax incentives enacted into law in 1993. Thanks to him, investors and employers can use the Indian Wage and Health Credit and an accelerated depreciation allowance to hire Indian people and locate investment equipment and physical infrastructure on Indian lands.

Americans, Indian and non-Indian, generate and hold most of their wealth in the form of their homes. Homeownership and the equity it brings can provide capital for Indian people to start businesses, to finance college for their kids and to invest to generate returns. In 1996, McCain shepherded the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act through Congress and to President Clinton who signed it into law. This law, NAHASDA, has drastically increased the volume of housing built and rehabilitated on Indian lands and has lead to increased ownership among Indian people.

John McCain has committed to having an Indian policy expert advise him in the White House. Sen. McCain made this commitment because he cares about Indian people and he knows that real economic problems demand real solutions, and that improving the lives of America’s indigenous people requires hard work, a bipartisan approach and a partnership with Indian country based on the priorities that count.

Aurene Martin and Paul Moorehead served as senior counsel and chief counsel/staff director, respectively, to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs under the chairmanship of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. They are now in private practice.