If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature truly care about reducing poverty in California, here's one quick way they can do it: Allow the Yurok tribe in Klamath to operate a modest casino.
For years political pressures from wealthy Southern California tribes and big labor have left the Yurok without a gaming compact. Other tribes don't want to lose a share of their casino profits while unions want the tribe to follow strict labor rules that go beyond what California requires from other businesses.
Indeed, most recently the Yurok - the largest tribe in California - asked for the right to operate a mere 99 slot machines. The governor turned them down. But he did agree to let the Agua Caliente, a campaign donor, add another 5,000 slot machines in Palm Springs.
It's a classic example of the Politician's Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.
Meanwhile, the Yurok remain among the poorest American Indian tribes in California. Many Yurok live without electricity or clean running water. Many reside in 40-year-old dilapidated trailers. Few roads on Yurok land are paved. Diabetes, meth abuse and lack of higher education plague the tribe.
A casino would bring the Yurok an estimated $1 million annually. That would go a long way in addressing its social issues and building the infrastructure needed for other profitable tribe-operated businesses to start.
Contrary to the claims of greedy tribes' lobbyists, they wouldn't be hurt by a Yurok casino. Nearly 50 tribes garnered $13 billion from gambling in 2004, the California Attorney General's office reports, and casino profits continue to rise. Consider that the Yurok government spent a measly $12 million last year - less than what the Agua Caliente spent on outfitting its Palm Springs-area hotel rooms in the same period.
A casino obviously is not the sole solution to the Yurok's economic recovery. But it would give a boost. Until the tribe has dollars for school rooms, social services, roads and to start other business endeavors, its members will remain trapped in poverty.
That Sacramento allows this to continue simply because lobbyists pull strings is symptomatic of why so many have lost faith in government. As the Legislature reconvenes this week, lawmakers and the governor can help set right its past wrongs: Allow the Yurok a chance to pull themselves out of poverty with a gaming compact.