A lame duck bid to hand off 1,400 acres to a casino running Native American tribe in southern California is drawing fire not just from locals worried it will destroy the rural feel of coastal Santa Ynez Valley, but also the concerns of the late former President Ronald Reagan.
At issue is federal legislation favorable to the small Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians that would give them control of the land, meaning they could expand their reservation and casino, build high-rises, or push other development even if locals said no.
And many are. The Santa Ynez Valley Coalition is among them and spokesman C.J. Jackson laid out the argument when he explained that the tribe and county have been addressing development and expansion.
However, now Congress is involved, and the Chumash, having spend hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying friendly lawmakers, are hopeful that the lame duck session will see passage of legislation skipping over local negotiations to get outright control of the land.
"If the small government ideals of a Republican Congress and a Republican President are going to prevail, local government and tribe officials must continue working together using the original terms agreed on at the beginning of this process. Intervention from Washington, D.C. is unnecessary and even damaging when officials who are not from the area try to legislate success for one side of the issue," Jackson wrote in the Hill. He added:
"Indian casinos, while a significant financial boon for the tribe, can be detrimental to the surrounding community, residents, and small businesses. President-elect Trump, who himself was in the casino business at one time, testified before Congress in 1993 on suspected corruption of the Indian gaming industry."
The picturesque valley is home to Reagan's Rancho del Cielo, the iconic setting of some 50 presidential visits where the Gipper was photographed cutting wood and riding horses.
His horse veterinarian and sometime co-rider for many of those years said Reagan worried that liberalized Native American policies would one day lead to hundreds of tribes running their own countries.
"On one ride," said Dr. Doug Herthel, "he was really upset, and usually you never saw him upset."
Reagan, said the founder of the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, "realized the problem. You can't have all these 541 separate nations within our nation."
Reagan never saw it happening near his ranch. "I don't think he was worried about what it would do to us locally as much as what it would do the country," said Herthel.
The ranch is now run by Young America's Foundation, and the group hasn't taken a stand. A spokeswoman said that some supporters are concerned about the expansion, but it doesn't impact the ranch operation in any way
Herthel is the president of Preservation of Los Olivos which is fighting the federal legislation on behalf of locals.
He argued that federal legislation would also take control of the issue away from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and locals and expressed surprise that the opposition to the plan from local Rep. Lois Capps is being ignored.
In a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee, he said, "With all respect, Congress is interfering in matters that belong in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal courts. There is no excuse for passing a law that is designed solely to destroy the due process rights of a small group of Americans. We urge you to reject H.R. 1157."
The fight over Native Americans and casinos is not a new one but Herthel said he hopes the Santa Ynez will be the last.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org