continued He is Anthony Pico, 53, the chairman of the Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Indians. I introduce myself and ask, "This initiative, if passed, is only a statutory law. Tomorrow, somebody is going to sue. This is the kind of a case that would make it to the California Supreme Court. The odds are high the court will look at the California Constitution, which says you can't have casino gambling in California, they'll look at the statutory law that has been passed by voters, and rule that since there is a conflict, the Constitution overrides a statutory law. Then what do you do?"
Pico is smooth. "Well, before then, we'll go to whoever the new governor is -- which appears to be Gray Davis -- sit down, and say, 'Hey, let's pound out a fair and equitable compact that respects Native American governments.' "
Pico is led off by a young woman to do a television interview. I meander, stage right, toward three tables that have been roped off. This area is reserved for tribal dignitaries, their wives, and guests. I talk to the vice chairman and a councilmember. I return to center-of-hall base camp. I chit. I chat. I pace. I mingle. I am bored. My feet hurt. The shiny blue-suited MC returns and rips, "You know him and you love him, it's my pleasure to introduce..."
Anthony Pico is at the podium. Prop 5 has passed by an enormous margin -- 20-plus points -- and this will be the official victory statement. "I don't mean to sound boastful, but there are some of us who knew from day one that we would prevail. We're on the verge of making history, and for everyone who says that voting doesn't make a difference or that you can't make changes to politics, we have to point to Proposition 5.
"Proposition 5 is more than a referendum on self-sufficiency for Native Americans. It's more than an initiative on gaming in California. We are on the verge of making history, not because the tribe ran a good campaign and spent a great deal of money doing so. Even if those are true statements, we are upon the verge of making history tonight because it will be the first time, not only California, but in the whole United States, that wealthy economic interests were not allowed to sacrifice the lives and the future generations of Indians to satisfy their greed."
* * *
When Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, he had no thought that a generation later I-8 would lie adjacent to the Viejas Indian Reservation. Nor could he predict that 18 years after his death, the Seminole tribe of Florida would open a bingo hall on its reservation, and, further, would offer prizes higher in value than other bingo emporiums within the state of Florida were permitted to offer.
Bring in the lawyers. U.S. Public Law 280 states that certain criminal state laws are applicable on Indian reservations. Seminoles were paying higher bingo prizes than allowed by state law. That was a criminal offense in Florida. Round up all the lawyers.
Eventually, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that high-stakes Indian bingo did not conflict with the public policy of Florida, since bingo was permitted in that state. Florida laws regulating bingo, even those laws carrying criminal penalties, were simply a part of a larger scheme meant to manage the activity and therefore did not fall within the scope of PL 280.
Seminoles 10. State of Florida 0. Indian gaming begins.
Fast forward 19 years and beam into the tribal office of chairman Anthony Pico. It's been three days since Prop 5 passed.
"Do you read a lot?" I begin.
Pico: I do read a lot. I'm a student.
Reader: What topics do you like?
Pico: Whatever is most current in business. I know when something is three years old, it's usually obsolete. So I try to keep as current as I can. We are in business and we're entrepreneurs and we're on the forefront of what we're doing. Reading helps me to know what I don't know, and that helps me make some decisions.
Reader: Anything else?
Pico: I like to read about leadership.
Reader: How do you lead?
Pico: Surrounding myself with the best people I can find and then taking their advice. It's about communication, morality, and actually stepping out and going forth.
Reader:The tribe has no debt service; the casino is paid for. I've read that every member of the band receives somewhere between $4000 to $6000 a month, free health care, and free education through Ph.D. How are you going to keep a tribe of less than 300 together when any member can go anywhere and do pretty much anything he wishes?
Pico: First of all, you're not going to be able to keep everybody here. We know that. But there are some things of commonality that will keep people together and, I believe, will keep them here. One is our history, our customs, and tradition. And the other is the practice of our customs, traditions, and culture, which we are working with now. This is the biggest challenge we have.
Most of us don't speak our language. I don't speak our language. But we do have language classes. We do have cultural classes. We have singing, dancing, history, and government classes. I'm hoping these kinds of things will be enough to pull our people together. The red man has always had great challenges.
Reader: Were you surprised by the size of your victory?
Pico: We may have won Proposition 5 at the ballot box, but that still hasn't settled the issue and the legitimacy of what we're doing. It was hard enough creating something and now it's hard enough keeping it. We have a legal department and all they do is process claims.
But the hardest challenge we have is to solve the disintegration that has gone on for years because of poverty. That's probably going to take a couple of generations. But whatever we decide, whatever we do, it is our culture that will hold the people together. I think that the culture will evolve into something -- it may not be new in its concept or its purpose, but it will be new in its delivery.