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Archive for April 11th, 2009

NPT Capitol: Chavez making old news? Tigua hopes in real trouble

The Tigua’s hopes of opening Speaking Rock Casino are in big trouble. On Friday, the El Paso Times quoted state Rep Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, saying that the tribes efforts this session are “not salvageable” due to what state Rep Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, called “insurmountable obstacles.” [link]

The Times’ piece does not divulge any more details, though a new piece has appeared this morning.[link]

So what is the deal?

Here’s a summary of information NPT has gathered so far from sources in Austin.

Several weeks ago, Gallego (Chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Subcommittee which heard the Tigua’s “defense to prosecution” bill, HB 1308, on March 30) started receiving emails about Tigua Gov. Frank Paiz’s criminal background.

Paiz had already proven to be a liability for the Tiguas and Chavez, their chief ally in their legislative efforts, so far this session. Apparently, it was Paiz who angered state Rep Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, on March 26th, prompting Chavez to scramble together a meeting/photo-op between Tigua women and House liberals. Paiz had been part of a delegation seeking Bolton’s vote but the Austin Rep took umbrage at him telling her that only the men of the tribe had elected him. [link]

Paiz and Hisa

Paiz and Hisa

Since then, Paiz has taken a back seat as Chavez and other tribal leaders have lobbied at the Capitol. He has not spoken at public hearings either, that job being left mostly to Carlos Hisa, the tribe’s lieutenant governor. According to NPT’s sources, during the same time behind the scenes, there have been efforts within the Tigua’s tob brass to remove Paiz from his position.

Paiz’s background includes convictions for theft, assault and a charge of domestic violence. [link] This causes two problems:

First, it makes it hard for certain Democrats in the House (either in safe districts with possible primary battles brewing or in marginal seats) to vote for legislation that would let the Tiguas re-open. Simply put, it would be too easy for the Tigua issue to crop up in a negative ad in any future campaign against them. (State Rep. X stood by this wife beating thief ect…) Indeed, this wouldn’t just stop individual state Reps from voting, it could lead to pressure on members from Democratic Party bigwigs worried about losing ground to the Republicans in 2010 (bigwigs like Gallegos, quoted by the El Paso Times). The Democrats would expect to annoy conservative constituents with a pro-gambling vote, to lose liberal ones too is politically unfeasible.

Second, Paiz’s behavior doesn’t sit well with other gambling interests such as racetracks and resort casinos. Currently all the gambling interests are fighting behind the scenes to forge an omnibus gambling bill that would result in putting the issue on the ballot in November. (The article in the time strangely does not mention omnibus bills at all.)

According to one source, the big gambling interests only want the Tiguas on board in the omnibus legislation because it makes them look good. The Tiguas operated a casino which was of benefit to the local community and provided much improved public services for a low-income historically disadvantaged minority, so goes the pitch. But if Paiz’s behavior ever became the center of any campaign against gambling (if an omnibus bill hit the House floor or a constitutional amendment hit the ballot) then the Tiguas would go from poster-boy to weak link.

chavezWith this in mind, it’s likely Chavez and others told the Tiguas that Paiz needed to go — otherwise the Tigua-only legislation would die in the session and they also risked being jettisoned from the omnibus bills.

On Thursday, the Tiguas met in a Junta, a traditional tribal meeting. It was recommended at the Junta that Paiz be removed from office, but apparently the a majority of tribal members stood by him. According to one source, this was because pressure to remove Paiz was seen as coming from outside the tribe and was therefore an affront to their sovereignty. According to another, it was because the Tigua’s are an “eccentric” bunch whose behavior cannot be predicted.

This brings us to yesterday, when Chavez told the El Paso times that, “I believe the Tigua legislation is not salvageable.” (Emphasis mine, phrase used in Saturday article too.)

Chavez’s phrase is ambiguous. It could mean “not salvageable” in general, meaning all Tigua options in Austin. Or it could mean “not salvageable” in terms of the Tigua only legislation. (The Tigua only legislation is already effectively dead, Chavez having told NPT as much several weeks ago.)

If Chavez means, “not salvageable” in general, it would be plausible to conclude (based on what NPT currently knows) that out of sheer frustration with the Tigua’s decision to not dump Paiz, the El Paso Rep has given up on re-opening Speaking Rock for this session.

But Friday would be an odd day to do this with a big meeting scheduled between all the gambling interests and Licensing Chair Ed Keumpel, R Seguin, scheduled for Monday. Why declare all hope is lost when the omnibus bill route (the most plausible route all along) is still open. (Unless, of course, the big gambling interests have already let Chavez know they are jettisoning the Tiguas – by no means a dead certainty as they are involved in their own infighting.)

Perhaps more likely is that Chavez is using the El Paso Times to put heat on Paiz and his tribal allies. By effectively blaming Paiz for keeping the casino shuttered (along with all the jobs, health care benefits and so on that goes with it.)

Chavez told the Times, “”A CEO of any gaming corporation with the same exact background of (Paiz) wouldn’t be allowed to sign a contract with the state, so it’s hard to ask my colleagues to do something a CEO can’t do.” Chavez might be hoping to pressure Paiz into quitting, or emboldening his tribal opponents to renew efforts to oust him over the weekend.

If done quickly and audibly, Paiz’s exit could be statewide news casting the Tiguas in a new light (combating domestic violence, corruption ect…) and sparing them being cut from the omnibus bills. Chavez could then claim she only meant the Tigua only bills when she spoke with the Times on Friday rather than the Tigua hopes in general. (The Tigua only bills are dead anyway so by publicly killing her own bills, Chavez isn’t loosing anything.)

Sources in Austin could not confirm NPT’s thesis of the situation one way or the other and Chavez could not be reached for comment and did not return calls.

We will let you know when we know!

Written by newspapertreeelpaso

April 11, 2009 at 10:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized