Torlakson mailer hits Contra Costa

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians from Banning, Calif., has financed glossy mailers in Contra Costa County that call Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, a “problem-solver for our schools.”

It’s unusual to see campaign-style mailers this far out from an actual election. Have the Morongo Indians moved to Contra Costa County?

No, the senator authored one of six Indian gaming tribal compacts that passed the Senate recently but face a less certain future in the Assembly later this month.

Torlakson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored SB957, which would allow the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to increase slot machine operations in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage from 2,000 to 5,000.

The color brochure touting Torlakson’s education bona fides (it doesn’t mention Indian gaming) is part of the tribes’ statewide campaign called Together California that seeks to persuade the public of the value of Indian gambling to California’s bottom line.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger negotiated the compacts, which require the Legislature’s ratification. Analysts estimate the compacts would generate $120 million to $200 million for California’s general fund.

The $20 million initiative included television advertising, 1.5 million pieces of mail, 50,000 door-hangers and 2.3 million phone calls.

The tribe also put out positive flyers in the districts of two other senators who voted in their favor, Democratic sens. Jenny Oropeza of Sacramento and Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles.

“We understand that it was a tough stand that Tom took and we wanted people to now that he took a leadership role and he decide (the compacts) are good for the state,” said Patrick Dorinson, the Together California spokesman.”We did it to thank the senators for the leadership they took.”

Torlakson’s vote in favor of the compacts attracted serious heat from UNITED HERE, a union that represents hotel, restaurant and needle-trade workers. The union distributed 4,000 anonymous door-hangers in Contra Costa County in April that targeted the senator and his pro-Indian-gaming stance.

The dispute now shifts to the Assembly, which will hold an informational hearing Monday on the state and federal regulatory process that governs Indian gaming. It’s a precursor to as-yet-unscheduled hearings on the compacts.

Interestingly, Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, a Concord Democrat who calls Torlakson a friend and a mentor, may not vote with the senator.

DeSaulnier also has very close ties to the unions, who say the compacts roll back worker protections and their rights to unionize.

But DeSaulnier says he’s equally concerned about the effects of gambling on society and he dislikes the compacts’ self-auditing provision.

“My dad, among his other afflictions, had a gambling problem and I’m not a prude, but I don’t, as a rule, think gambling is a good thing for most people,” said DeSaulnier, referring to his father, former Massachusetts judge and state legislator who shot himself after being accused of accepting a bribe.”I’m not going to say no to gambling ever. But I do wonder, when do we have more than enough slot machines?”

Lisa Vorderbrueggen