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The Strangest of Bedfellows

In 1988, a Chino prison guard was killed when a juvenile prisoner he was escorting to a Los Angeles hospital for medical treatment tried to escape. Like other prison guards killed in the line of duty, the veteran officer left behind a grieving family. But unlike the others, his death had an unintended political consequence. It wound up bringing together two people who, 12 years later, helped create one of the most intriguing and powerful alliances in California politics.

The two sides in this unlikely marriage are the politically savvy prison guards' union known as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association or CCPOA _ and three of the wealthiest Indian gaming tribes in the state: the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

This political joint venture is intriguing for a number of reasons. What common ground would cause two such seemingly disparate interests to join forces? And what impact will the combined characteristics of the alliance have on California politics?

The merger brings together CCPOA's wellestablished reputation as one of the shrewdest players in state elections with the raw, relatively inexperienced, but substantial money power of the three tribes.

And it offers a campaign war chest that potentially reaches into the tens of millions of dollars, guided by a man recognized as one of the sharpest political operators in California politics today: Don Novey, CCPOA's president for the past 20 years.

Yet when it comes to discussing this political powerhouse, very few insiders claim to know anything about it or its political action committee: the Native Americans & Peace Officers PAC, or NAPO. In interviews with more than a dozen key people who make it their business to know about entities like NAPO, almost none could provide any details, publicly or privately. In addition, a number of participants were contacted repeatedly about the alliance and never responded to the queries _ including tribal officials inside and outside of NAPO.

But in interviews with Novey and two of the tribal participants, it's clear that these two distinctly different entities have found a common purpose when it comes to playing in elections _a purpose that is as multidimensional as Novey's reputed chesslike knack for political strategizing.

Who are Those Guys?

When Les Macarro, a Luiseno Indian prison guard, was killed 12 years ago while trying to apprehend his escaped prisoner, his family suddenly found itself both emotionally and financially devastated. Macarro's wife, Martha, was unable to work following her husband's death, leaving her and the couple's four children in dire straits. But thanks in part to Novey's efforts, the family's financial situation stabilized when it received money from a fund for relatives of peace officers killed in the line of duty. The family's oldest child, Mark, never forgot that help.

"It was a tremendous boon at the time," says Mark Macarro, who went on to become chairman of his tribe, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, and the most visible and arguably most powerful Native American during the recent Proposition lA and Proposition 5 ballot battles over Indian gambling.

Indian gambling, in fact, what caused Macarro and Novey's paths to cross again years after Les Macarro's death. Unable to make any inroads with thenGovernor Pete Wilson in the state's longsimmering legal battle over the use of Nevadastyle slot machines in Indian casinos, Macarro contacted Novey, who was on good terms with the governor after Novey's union had given more than $2 million to Wilson's two gubernatorial elections. Novey also was contacted by Viejas chairman Anthony Pico for the same reasons. Although Novey was unable to resolve the dispute between the tribes and Wilson, he established a relationship with the tribal leaders that continued to grow.

By 1998, things solidified to the point where the two tribes, along with a third, the Morongos, agreed to establish a joint political action committee with the CCPOA.

To appreciate the potential that NAPO has as a political force, consider what each side brings to the table. For the tribes, it's cash. Lots of cash. They've also acquired a heavy blanket of public sympathy through their campaigns for Propositions 5 and 1A. Although more than 40 California tribes operate casinos on their reservations, the three NAPO tribes are among the biggest spenders when it comes to contributing to state politicians and campaigns. According to spending reports from January 1998 through February 2000, the three tribes spent a combined $36 million on candidates and ballot initiatives.

And then there's the CCPOA. A key player in legislative and gubernatorial campaigns for more than 10 years, the union under Novey's leadership has learned to successfully play both sides of the political aisle _ having supported both Democratic and Republican candidates. Picking winners is something for which Novey is known, including the last two gubernatorial victors: Republican Wilson and Democrat Gray Davis. The union also doesn't lack for its own cash, evidenced by its expenditure of $5.4 million over the last two years on various campaigns.

But with NAPO, Novey will be in a position to funnel even larger amounts into campaign coffers if the tribes continue to pony up. So far, Novey's union and the tribes have poured $1.3 million into NAPO, most of that spent on a select number of key races across the state.

Mine + Yours = Power

Although the early personal connection between the tribes and Novey's CCPOA helps explain the formation of the alliance, it doesn't fully express all the political reasons for its existence. One is the nature of power politics, in which the building of coalitions brings added clout and strength to individual groups. "In politics, the more strategic alliances you are able to build, the stronger you become," says Republican consultant Ray McNally, who has worked with Novey for years.

Other reasons are more specific to each side. For the Indians, linking themselves to the CCPOA makes perfect sense, given Novey's experience and track record in elections.

"You don't go very wrong in this town by taking a lead from Don Novey," said Democratic consultant David Townsend. "If I was a new emerging economic force in this town, it'd be smart politics to align myself with Novey."

CCPOA's connections with law enforcement groups also made an alliance important to the tribes. In their efforts to legalize Nevadastyle slot machines for their casinos, tribal leaders needed the support of law enforcement because of arguments by gambling opponents that expanded Indian gaming would increase crime.

"Don [Novey] was part of the law enforcement community and the fact that Macarro had a close relationship with Novey, we made a decision to go in to start this PAC," said Pico.

And now, having won the type of gambling operations they want through passage of Proposition lA in March 2000, the tribes' alliance with CCPOA is a means of keeping what they have won. "Any political gains by definition, especially with term limits, have a way of being shortlived. We were exploring a means, a mechanism, of protecting those gains," said Macarro. "We're not in it for `the game' _ to have power as an end in itself... It's important as we lay the economic groundwork that we also lay a political foundation to protect it."

For others, however, the tribes' decision to strengthen themselves signals an attempt to cut others out, such as owners of card rooms and horse tracks anxious to expand their own gambling operations. As one legislative source, who has worked with the tribes but asked not to be identified, put it: "Five years ago, these tribes were nothing. Now, they've basically cut themselves out a constitutional protection for huge gaming revenues, and the shift is now on closing the door on others who want to cash in. As long as they have a monopoly, they're going to have an interest in protecting that monopoly."

Novey, meanwhile, downplays the political nittygritty of why he's working with the tribes, saying it's all about helping the new kids on the political block. "I know it sounds corny, but I think we gave the royal screws to the American Indian," he says. "It goes back to the 1800s when we took away a lot of their lands and they were never compensated for it."

"It's the right thing to do," Novey adds, "helping them to help themselves."

That includes sharing with tribal leaders some of CCPOA's acquired knowledge, including lessons learned from past mistakes. Novey cites the time his union bestowed a $10,000 honorarium to thenAssemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier (RSan Diego) in 1988 for her support of CCPOAbacked legislation _ a contribution that was criticized by some as heavyhanded. "We took some flack for that and probably rightfully so . . . In politics, you make one major mistake and your dollar is dirty forever. I sure didn't want that to happen to [the Indians]."

Aw, Shucks, t'aint nothin'

Although Novey brushes aside any selfinterest in teaming with tribes, others point out that CCPOA also gains from such a relationship. Several election experts noted that the alliance will magnify the union's influence now that it is affiliated with one of the largest upand coming groups in the state. Plus, the PAC's pot of money allows CCPOA to help its friends without footing all of the bill. Consider Dave Cogdill, for example:

Running for the Republican nomination in the Modestobased 25th Assembly District, Cogdill received $50,000 from NAPO a few weeks before the March 7 2000 primary. The contribution was made even though Cogdill is an avowed opponent of gambling. CCPOA, meanwhile, thought well enough of Cogdill to cut a separate uniononly check for $25,000 to the former councilman. In essence, Novey was able to give Cogdill $75,000, with $50,000 coming from a joint account in which the Indians put up 75 percent of the money.

The joint war chest also can be useful in diluting the worries of those who might have trouble taking Indian gaming money but not prison guard money, and vice versa. "It gives the tribes a chance to participate without being the direct givers," said one political consultant who asked not to be identified. "It [the tribal money] mixes with law enforcement [money]."

There are potential pitfalls, though, in relying on a common pool of money. In the case of Cogdill, the NAPO contribution made the local papers, earning the former Modesto councilman some negative press for saying that he considered the PAC money a prison guard contribution, not an Indian gambling donation. The revelation, while embarrassing, did not hurt Cogdill at the polls, where he won the GOP nomination on March 7.

Cogdill provides an interesting example of the give and take decision making process that NAPO leaders go through in deciding where to spend their money. Cogdill clearly was a CCPOA pick, while other NAPO recipients were chosen, in part, because of who they were running against _ candidates whom Indians did not like. "Some were more germane to tribal interests and others more germane to CCPOA," says Macarro.

Macarro and Pico both concurred that Democrats Jack Scott and Amanda Susskind each received $100,000 from NAPO in their primary tussles for Senate and Assembly because their opponents _ Democrats Scott Wildman and Paul Koretz, respectively _ had angered tribal leaders by failing to support important Indian measures. Similar reasoning was behind NAPO's choice in backing Assemblymen Rico Oller, a Republican, and Ed Vincent, a Democrat, in their respective Senate races. Oller's GOP opponent was lobbyist R.K. "Skip" Daum, who, in Macarro's words, used tribal gaming as a "bludgeon" to attack Oller.

"We felt it was dumb and felt it was necessary to send a message," said Macarro. As for Vincent, his primary opponent was fellow Democratic Assemblyman Dick Floyd one of the most openly hostile opponents of tribal gaming, according to Macarro. "That was a nobrainer that he had to be targeted."

When one considers the $40 million spent by NAPO in elections since 1998 and notes the losses by NAPO targets such as Daun, Floyd, and Wildman in the March primary, it's enough to give any politician pause about landing on NAPO's hit list. But that doesn't necessarily mean NAPO will wind up spending gargantuan amounts of money to lay waste to its opponents, according to Novey.

"The Indians have got to be cognizant of not spending too much money. The potential is there for a tribe to take half a million or even a million dollars and invest it in a legislative race, but it would stick out like a sore thumb," says Novey.

"I come from a school of life where you don't scream and cajole your power, because it becomes diminished the more you try to exhibit it. We all wanted to do about this in a quiet way . . . in a way to impact races that will help solidify the tribes within the political process . . . to look professional and be professional about it."

Both Novey and Macarro say they intend to keep the alliance together for the long term. Unlike other interests that have linked up because of mutual interest in a specific piece of legislation or a statewide initiative campaign, the alliance between CCPOA and the tribes has no political expiration date. It was created, as Macarro put it, with the intention of being around for a very long time, in order to secure the tribes' recent economic gains for future generations.

And it could become even bigger. Novey indicated that NAPO may expand to include additional tribes, including those beyond Southern California. "It's up to the three tribal leaders to expand the Central and Northern California [presence]. The possibility does exist [of others joining]."

Regardless, it's a political powerhouse that can't be ignored.

Reprinted with permission from The California Journal

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