This article, written two days before the Primary Elections, suggests something that only campaign finance reports not yet published can verify. It might explain how two candidates went into the last weekend of the campaign for the 19th Congressional District essentially even, and one of them won by 10 points the following Tuesday. The thesis is that the candidate to whom one Indian casino donated heavily defeated two candidates who expressed the view that another tribe in the vicinity ought to have a "fair hearing" on its application to build an "off-reservation" casino on Highway 99, a site more advantageous than the casino that funded the winner. This logic in turn rests on at least two other assumptions. First, it assumes the sprawling district, which includes the central Sierra and parts of three Valley counties, is in any sense politically coherent other than its dominant Republican registration. It assumes the Republican electorate of the district can be swayed by the largest quantity of political propaganda. And it assumes that slot-machine players from metropolitan areas in Central California have become major players an election regardless of how far out of their thoughts that campaign was at the time they dropped the money in the casino.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Dist. 19 congressional focus shifts from green to greenbacks...Bill McEwen
The bruising Republican primary to pick George Radanovich's likely successor in Congress was supposed to center on the perpetual battle among farming and environmental interests.
"The Greens' Ground Zero" proclaimed the Wall Street Journal in an opinion column describing an expected 19th District showdown pitting Richard Pombo, decrier of the Endangered Species Act, against Jeff Denham, a moderate Republican state senator known for brokering compromises.
So much for conventional wisdom. In the final days of the campaign, the environmentalists have disappeared, Pombo is a distant third in the polls, and the real issue is a different kind of green: gambling revenue.
We now have a too-close-to-call matchup between Denham and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, and late money is going to influence whether a casino is built off Highway 99 in Madera County.
The heavy advertising is coming from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, which hopes trying to prevent casino competition from a nearby tribe.
The Chukchansi tribe, through an interest group called Californians for Fiscally Conservative Leadership, is attacking Patterson in radio ads.
The ads aren't a surprise to Pombo. He says that Joe Alberta, who does public relations for Chukchansi, said last month that the tribe would target candidates who didn't side with Chukchansi. Alberta counters that Pombo's claim "is crazy."
The conversation, Pombo says, occurred after a candidates' forum in North Fork. One question dealt with efforts by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build an off-reservation casino.
Patterson and Pombo gave similar answers. Each said he was personally opposed to off-reservation casinos, but said that the North Fork application was entitled to a fair hearing in accordance with federal law.
Following the meeting, Pombo says, he was confronted by Alberta. Patterson says he saw them talk, but didn't hear the exchange.
"Alberta made the comment, 'You really put a nail in your coffin,' " Pombo says. "He also said they would be running independent expenditure [ads] against me."
Patterson says that Pombo later told him to "get ready for a very hard attack from Chukchansi."
Alberta disputes Pombo's account.
"Pombo was following me around all night," Alberta says. "I didn't say anything like that. It's just sour grapes because they [Pombo and Patterson] don't have the tribe support."
Denham didn't attend the forum. But Dave Gilliard, his campaign spokesman, says that Denham "is completely against off-reservation gambling."
Gilliard also says that the campaign "doesn't know anything" about Californians for Fiscally Conservative Leadership.
Alberta says he also is unaware of the group and the ads. But the group's address listed with the Federal Elections Commission is Chukchansi's tribal address in Coarsegold.
Alberta, by the way, is running for the District 5 seat on the Madera County Board of Supervisors. Incumbent Tom Wheeler has said that Alberta's sole reason for running is because he refused to oppose the North Fork tribe's casino bid. Alberta says that Wheeler's claim is "100% false."
Whatever the truth is, know this: the Madera casino question will influence elections until the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- or congressional legislation -- gives a definitive answer.