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Stateside with Rosalea: It's all in the game

Stateside with Rosalea

It's all in the game

By Rosalea Barker

I'm sorry, but I put you crook last week when I said I saw the California recall debate in a sports bar - I was referring to the atmosphere rather than the venue. Although... I'm sure a case could be argued for calling libraries sports bars of the mind!

An interesting footnote to that report is that when I got home and turned on the 11 o'clock news, a young man in another audience on a college campus about a hundred miles away said exactly the same thing about it being like watching an episode of Jerry Springer. Perhaps that wasn't a spontaneous reaction at all, and these young folks here get into the manipulative aspect of US politics with a vengeance at an early age.

At a recent debate featuring candidates for Governor of California who are under the age of 30, at least one of the candidates had her own media crew in tow. He'd volunteered his services to her for free, he told me, because he thinks she's a great candidate. Along with a backpack full of cameras and lenses, he also had a mini digital video camera.

During a break in the debate, when the candidates were out the back being interviewed by a couple of the network news reporters that had showed up, volunteers for all the candidates were sifting through the crowd, getting initial reactions, and several of them had mini dv cameras too. One crew, tucked into a corner, had a professional camera and boom mike, and told me they are making an independent film on the California recall.

Of the four candidates who had been invited to this youth candidate debate, the Republican Bryan Quinn "wasn't able to be there", so a write-in Republican, Jason Gastrich, and an Independent, Brooke Adams, represented the right wing. When asked how their campaigns were being financed, Adams said she'd taken a loan from her family and is taking donations and selling T-shirts on her website. Gastrich didn't answer except to say that he has raised enough to have a TV ad running in LA and a radio ad coming out in the Central Valley. He's a born-again Christian, so maybe some church group is involved.

The third candidate was Georgy Russell of thong-selling infamy, who is a Democrat. We're not talking thongs in the Australian sense of the word, of course - though those very items are the fashion footwear of choice on college campuses at the moment. Russell said she didn't put any money of her own into the campaign because she wants hers "really to be a campaign of the people." So it's funded from donations on her website - and the underwear, which is "selling well."

All the candidates impressed me with their knowledge of the issues, although I think the write-in candidate was the least politically savvy: "I think we should love the Indians. The only mention of Indians in this whole debate is as gamers. That's terrible." He was responding to a question from the student moderator about the influence of money from the so-called casino tribes in the campaigns of the major gubernatorial candidates.

Well, Indian gaming money certainly is coming to the forefront as an issue now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has given up on airing cosy "nice me, doing the work of the people" ads and now shoots straight to the camera in an ad decrying the fact that Davis, Bustamante, and even Republican McClintock have received campaign contributions from casino tribes. Another of his ads shows a slot machine that comes up with those three faces all in a row for a payout.

There is an unconscious irony in Schwarzenegger basing his campaign on a "we the people" versus "special interests" theme: it was "we the people" who gave special interests their power in the first place by passing a proposition in 1990 to limit the number of years politicians can hold office in Sacramento. Initially challenged in the courts as unconstitutional, term limits were ultimately upheld, resulting in lobbyists with 30 years' experience walking all over the constantly turned-over membership of the Senate and Assembly in Sacramento. In fact, many termed-out politicians become highly rewarded in what is seriously known as the Third House - lobbying.

Months and months ago (was it even *before* the recall election got under way?) one particular band of Indians was running high-profile ads that pointed out how the profits from their gaming enterprises are funneled into community projects for all Californians - projects that otherwise wouldn't exist because there is no funding available for them in state and local body budgets. On the other hand, in an article this week on the Indian Country Today website, reporter James May points out that D-Q University - a wananga set up in 1971 on unused federal land near Sacramento - struggles constantly for money and gets very little from a local casino tribe.

At the heart of Schwarzenegger's argument is that the gaming tribes pay no taxes to the state of California, but tribes in other states do. It's a complex question, particularly as the basis of the relationship between the US federal government and Indian tribes is a recognition of them as sovereign nations. Should Mexico be paying taxes to the California government, too, on the money it takes from the tourists who go south of the border for their vacations?

Gotta go, now. There's a car decorated with salmon and lobsters singing the toreador song from "Carmen" outside my window. Must be the annual "How Berkeley Can You Be?" Parade. Or has the recall election come to town?

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