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The political shape of things to come

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Despite a string of Republican wins around the
country, California emerged from the Nov. 2 elections as a Democratic
stronghold and some questions have now been raised about the limits of
popular Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's overall influence.

Gov. Schwarzenegger continues to enjoy a 65 percent approval rating among
California voters and his influence seemed to be evident in a few of the
ballot initiatives in California. However, candidates for whom the governor
campaigned in an attempt to gain Republican seats fell well short of that
goal.

Also, the governor's influence over two ballot measures aimed at California
Indian gaming also remains largely questionable. Both failed with around
eight out of 10 voters opposing them, higher than the governor's approval
rating, that makes Schwarzenegger's political contributions to their defeat
at best questionable.

Schwarzenegger, who had previously called Democratic legislators "girly
men," saw his efforts to increase the Republican minority in the state
houses end in a stalemate. On the day after the election, the makeup of the
California legislature looked exactly as it had the day before. In the
Senate, there were 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans; and in the state
Assembly there were 48 Democrats to 32 Republicans.

It is true that Schwarzenegger only joined in endorsing some candidates
very late in the campaign. However, this belies the fact that the governor
often campaigned in specific districts for ballot measures and would often
target the legislators, exclusively Democrats, who opposed them.

To further illustrate the point, the California legislature also had record
low approval ratings among state voters, often barely hovering out of the
teens, making not a single net loss for the party an even larger victory
than it seems.

Perhaps, one of the few races where Schwarzenegger had an impact was in the
Assembly race in the interior desert region of Southern California between
former Morongo Chairwoman Mary Ann Andreas and incumbent Republican Bonnie
Garcia. The governor's support of Garcia, at least partially a payback for
her early support of him during the recall election may have helped Garcia
in a district dominated by conservative Democratic voters.

Also, Schwarzenegger's influence over two ballot measures, Propositions 68
and 70 is very questionable. Proposition 68 was reviled by tribes and
viewed by many voters as a blatant and cynical attempt for a few card clubs
and horse race tracks, specifically named in the language of the
initiative, to get in on the gaming action.

Though Proposition 70 received a tepid endorsement from most of the state's
tribes, it may have suffered from a growing backlash against tribal gaming
expansion as a whole. The initiative offered to set the rate of payment for
tribal casinos at the standard corporate rate of 8.84 percent.

However, the initiative also allowed for tribes to strike 99-year deals,
nearly four times longer than even the longest of the current deals signed
by former Gov. Gray Davis and current Gov. Schwarzenegger. This fact,
combined with the initiative's perceived allowance of unlimited gaming
expansion, particularly unpopular deals for massive urban area casinos, may
have doomed it in the minds of gaming-wary voters.

Schwarzenegger was forced to rescind an unpopular agreement that would have
allowed for a casino in San Pablo, Calif. just a short drive from downtown
Oakland.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians had been one of the prime
architects behind Proposition 70. Though it had been officially opposed by
both the Democratic and Republican parties there were some high-profile
supporters including Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, who has been a
proponent of allowing Indian gaming to expand as long as the marketplace
makes it allowable. In fact, Agua Caliente Chairman Richard Milanovich
argued before the vote that the marketplace would not allow the state to
become, as Schwarzenegger described it "one big casino."

Though the makeup of the legislature has not changed, some prominent
members, long seen as California Indian allies, were forced into early
retirement. Most prominent among them is Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco,
who served as president pro tem of that body. Burton has long been regarded
as a close ally of tribes in the legislature and his status as the
Democratic leader and a major power broker has never been in doubt.

Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, is replacing Burton in the top spot, and though
regarded as tribe friendly, he lacks Burton's status.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga,
stepped down as minority leader earlier this year and was replaced by Sen.
Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin. Like Burton, Brulte was also regarded as a tribal
ally in a district that features several prominent tribes, and was an
effective minority party power broker in his own right.

Gaming tribes generally view Ackerman in a fairly neutral light. Brulte had
a bevy of tribes in his district that Ackerman's Orange County district
lacks. However, like the new Democratic leadership, Ackerman is also
replacing a major power in Brulte, who had at one time had the powerful
speakership in the Assembly during a brief period of Republican control in
the 1990s.

"The bottom line is that the tribes have friends on both sides of the
aisle, and that may ultimately present some problems for the governor,"
observed Michael Lombardi the gaming commissioner for the Augustine Band of
Mission Indians.

Lombardi predicts that the first problem the governor will encounter will
be over the completion of the recently-aborted compact with the Lytton
Band.

Essentially, Lombardi claims that the current group of liberal Democrats
from the Bay Area, along with conservative Republicans and some tribes will
continue to oppose and possibly derail the deal.

Despite successfully negotiating new gaming deals with 10 tribes this year,
the governor is beset by a bit of an image problem in Indian country. This
was evidenced in the past month when he said that the "Indians are ripping
us off," which earned him rebukes from organizations ranging from the
California NAACP to the California Indian Chamber of Commerce.

In fact, Milanovich announced that his tribe would not be willing to
negotiate with Schwarzenegger until the governor apologized for the remark.

Schwarzenegger's press people insist that the remark was directed solely at
Proposition 70 and was not meant as an insult to Indians as a whole.
Despite their explanation the furor over the remark has continued to dog
the governor's image in Indian country.

In fact, several other tribes have also said that they would not be willing
to negotiate and would stick to their current deals, most of which are in
place until the late 2010s, until another governor takes the reigns of
power. Rincon chairman John Currier remarked that the Schwarzenegger models
for compacts are more than some tribes can give.

Lombardi admits that Gov. Schwarzenegger remains a popular figure and
though his coattails may not be as large as once thought, his personal
popularity will allow him enough political leverage for some time to come.

"He's a real, genuine political phenomena, but it's early in the movie and
no one knows how it is going to end."