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Spokane Tribe calls ads for Rossi racist

The Spokane Tribe is accusing supporters of GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi of racism for TV commercials that they say suggest the tribe struck a “backroom deal” with the state over casino gambling.

The commercials, which the tribe contends are “misleading and racially charged,” highlight a bone of contention between Rossi and incumbent Chris Gregoire.

The gambling issue came up at a debate Thursday in Spokane. Rossi repeated his contention that Gregoire made a mistake by negotiating a gambling compact with the Spokane Tribe that turned down an offer of revenue for the state. He referred to a newspaper article that said the state could have received a share of casino revenues, up to $140 million, but turned it down during negotiations.

Indian tribes have “laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Democratic Party, directly into my opponent’s campaign,” he said during the debate.

Gregoire said she turned down an offer that would have led to unlimited tribal gambling off reservations. Any suggestion that she’s taken money from casinos is “an out-and-out lie,” and a contribution to the party is not the same as a contribution to her campaign, she added.

“Our job is not to be a partner in gambling, our job is to be the police, the cop, the regulator,” she said.

In a half-page ad Thursday in The Spokesman-Review, the Spokane Tribe blasted the commercials, which they said were full of “lies, half-truths and words taken out of context.” The compacts were negotiated with legislative oversight and according to state Attorney General Rob McKenna follow the law, the tribe said in its ad.

The commercials are paid for by the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Republican Governors Association, which support Rossi but are running the commercials independent of his campaign.The commercials feature Native American actors portraying tribal officials making “a backroom deal” with state officials, the newspaper ad says.

“We are convinced that Washingtonians share our view that such race-based distinctions have no place in determining who should be allowed to participate in the state’s political process,” the tribe’s ad said. “Before you cast us as some sort of villain, perhaps you should come out to our reservation and see how our modest gaming revenues are being put to use.”

Rossi did not see the tribe’s newspaper ad until several hours after the debate. But after he did, a spokeswoman insisted that the issue isn’t whether the tribe did anything wrong. Any appearance of corruption is on the governor, not the tribes, she said.

“This isn’t a racist issue,” said spokeswoman Jill Strait, adding that Rossi is one-fourth Native Alaskan. “Dino Rossi has never blamed the tribes. They were trying to get the best deal possible.”

She said she hasn’t heard Rossi express an opinion on whether the commercials are racist, but she said any demand that they’re taken off the air is moot. The Republican Governors Association, which had been running them as recently as last week, has switched to a different commercial.

Gregoire, who attended an afternoon rally in Spokane with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, said she’s heard from other tribes that also find the commercials racist. She agrees and thinks it’s wrong to suggest the tribes can’t contribute to a political party.

“They’re U.S. citizens,” she said. And while Native Americans generally vote at rates matching the rest of the state’s population, this controversy could change that, she added.