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Casino Turns Oregon Tribe into Political Player

19 June 2006

OREGON – As reported by the Statesman Journal: "Life is sweeter for the Grand Ronde tribe since it opened Spirit Mountain casino west of Salem in 1995.

"Gambling profits pay for universal health care for tribal members, elder housing, pensions, preschool, college scholarships and yearly checks of $4,700 to each member.

"And there's enough left over for the 5,500-person tribe to become a big-money player in Oregon politics.

"In the May primary for governor, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde saturated TV airwaves with ads pummeling Gov. Ted Kulongoski for supporting a competing casino proposed in the Columbia Gorge and praising Republican Ron Saxton for opposing that casino.

"If the Grand Ronde tribe repeats the $800,000 ad campaign in the fall general election, it could tip the race to Saxton and hand Republicans their first Oregon governorship in two decades.

"…Cheryle Kennedy, the Grand Ronde tribal chairwoman, is one of seven registered Democrats on the nine-person tribal council. But Kennedy said the Democratic governor broke a promise from his 2002 campaign, when Kulongoski assured tribal elders that he opposed the off-reservation casino in the gorge proposed by the Warm Springs tribe.

"…Kulongoski was forced to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in late spending to offset Grand Ronde ads, which labeled him a 'do-nothing governor,' to protect his primary lead over Democrat Jim Hill.

"…Political analysts say the Grand Ronde's aggressive stance delivered a message beyond the primary. The tribe wants to be viewed as a heavyweight in Oregon politics, much like other tribes across the nation that have been enriched by gambling profits.

"…For the past decade, since Oregon tribes reaped new money from casinos, the Grand Ronde tribe has accounted for more than half the state campaign donations by Oregon's nine tribes, according to the Money in Politics Research Action Project…"

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