Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blumenthal’s Last Stand?

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced early this political season that he would not be running for governor, though he has dropped hints here and there that he might be willing to step into the shoes of either of Connecticut’s two badly wounded US senators, Chris Dodd or Joe Lieberman.

In the meantime, there are the Indians to be dealt with. “Blumenthal Renews Bid To Ban Smoking at Casinos,” the headline reads, and one detects the odor of yet another suit in the air.

Famous for filing suits, filling the pages of state newspapers with his most recent adventures, bullying private businesses into contributing their mites to the state treasury and offering bills to a complicit legislature, many wonder why Blumenthal would want to be senator, or even president, when he now deploys such awesome powers as attorney general.

“The casinos,” Blumenthal said at a recent press conference attended by some Foxwood employees, officials from the union representing them, public health advocates and of course indispensable reporters, “can't be permitted to gamble with the public health.”

The casinos are owned by Indian tribes. The tribes are for purposes of law sovereign nations, and the attorney general should be no more permitted to sue them than he would be permitted to sue, say, Brazil for allowing smoking in casinos affecting US tourists. Neither should state legislatures be permitted to pass laws affecting the polity of foreign nations. Perhaps realizing they had not many arrows in their quiver, the state legislature last year let elapse a bill written by Blumenthal’s office that regulated smoking in casinos.

But this is no great trouble for Connecticut’s version of Caligula. And so the bill is back, the reporters are back, Blumenthal’s overheated rhetoric is back, and it is doubtful whether there is in the Democrat dominated legislature or in the state’s quisling judiciary a lawmaker or a judge stout-hearted enough to tell the attorney general to stick a sock in it and refrain from spoiling a great deal.

What’s the great deal?

Connecticut has a long standing a deal – actually a treaty – with Connecticut Indians that so far has delivered to the state’s treasury much more money than Blumenthal through his suits and legislative bullying has claimed to deposit in the state’s political piggy bank.

Here’s the deal: The state treats Indians in Connecticut as a sovereign nation and the grateful Indians give the state a cut of their coin operated slot machine earnings. The treaty is rather more in the nature of a gentleman’s agreement – because it is not at all certain that the original deal made between the Indians and then Governor Lowell Weicker would pass legal scrutiny. However, as a sovereign nation, the Indians are free to make non-legally binding agreements.

Blumenthal is not a sovereign nation, though he seems to have ambitions in that direction.

Governor Rell, who opposes the legislative ban on smoking favored by Blumenthal, has acknowledged that the Indian tribes are sovereign nations. She has advised prudence in dealing with them. As a sovereign nation, the tribes are beyond the reach of state law. In fact, the governor had already concluded a nonbinding deal with one of the casinos to expand the nonsmoking areas both on the gaming floor and elsewhere in the casino before Blumenthal resumed huffing and puffing.

Sovereign nations, when pushed to the edge by belligerents, tend to push back. The Russian navy sent a rusting armada to Venezuela and Cuba this year in response to moves from the Bush administration to place missile defenses in some few former soviet block countries that wiggled free of Moscow.

In response to Blumenthal’s arrogance, might not the Indians just dissolve their gentleman’s agreement with the state and keep the lottery winnings to themselves?

Why should gentlemen be gentle to bullies?

Why should a sovereign nation bow at the boots of Blumenthal?

What is to prevent the Indians from saying to Blumenthal: no smoking, no slot machine rake-off?

When General Custer moved against the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he was rebuffed in a rather dramatic fashion by superior force and the ingenious Crazy Horse, who proved to be a more fearsome warrior and a better general than the impetuous, forever blustering Custer.

It remains to be seen whether there is a Crazy Horse in Blumenthal’s future. Could an ensuing legal suit be Blumenthal’s last stand?

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