Saying he has a “unique duty’’ to protect the interests of Arizona residents, state Sen. Russell Pearce wants to intervene in the legal fight over a planned tribal casino on the edge of Glendale.
In legal papers filed in U.S. District Court, Pearce, R-Mesa, said the city of Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community are addressing their own “unique and individual concerns’’ about plans by the Tohono O’odham to build a $550 million complex, including a casino. But he said neither may adequately represent his interests, either as a state legislator or “as one particularly concerned with protecting state interests.’’
The U.S. Department of Interior and the Tohono O’odham Nation, however, want a federal judge to tell him to go away, at least in the legal sense. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristofor Swanson said there is no legal basis to let Pearce intercede.
“Even if Sen. Pearce is authorized to speak on behalf of the state of Arizona or its legislature, which he most assuredly is not, actions by Arizona’s legislature are not the subject of the present litigation,’’ Swanson wrote. Anyway, he said, others also have interests.
“Under his reasoning, each of the 30 state senators and 60 members of the House -- not to mention their staffers -- would have a right to intervene in this case to provide their own perspective,’’ Swanson said. And as to Pearce’s claim of interest as a taxpayer and citizen “place him in a position no different from every other taxpayer in the state of Arizona and Maricopa County.’’
Pearce’s request comes as U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell is sorting through three separate lawsuits seeking to overturn a July decision by the Department of Interior to allow the Tohono O’odham to give reservation status to 54 acres of land it purchased years ago. That status is significant because it is a precursor to allowing tribal gaming on the site.
Both the city of Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community filed suit, saying the federal agency’s decision was legally incorrect.
But the fight also involves money: It would make a new Tohono O’odham casino the closest to the West Valley communities of Glendale, Peoria and the Sun Cities; right now the nearest tribal gaming is on the Gila River reservation.
The issue of money was emphasized by a third lawsuit filed in federal court by three individual members of the Gila River Indian Community who live off the reservation. In their legal papers, the three said they each receive some money based on tribal gaming revenues.
They say letting the Tohono O’odham build a casino adjacent to Glendale would give that tribe “an illegal competitive advantage’’ in its gaming operations, resulting in less money for each of them.
A 1986 federal law allowed the Tohono O’odham to purchase land off its reservation to compensate for property lost following construction of a dam. That law also permits the tribe to separately petition the Department of Interior to have anything purchased become part of the reservation.