Here are my full thoughts on MITSC
Keep in mind that MITSC is a creature of the Maine State Implementing Act and Not I repeat Not a Tribal Organization.
I have watched MITSC operate and am not imnpressed with its aggressive and overbearing leadership style.
CREATING A HOSTILE ATMOSPHERE
I have read numerous articles touting the Maine Indian Tribal State Commissions (MITSC) view of what took place at the Legislature this past session and the reasons why the Judiciary Committee is to blame for this breakdown in Tribal State Relations. It is time for another perspective. The breakdown has been blamed on the Committees actions on MITSC funding cut and it’s failure to support LD 2221 A Tribal Work Study Group bill. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of the Judiciary Committee for almost nine years. It is my feeling that the breakdown has been fueled to a large extent by the aggressive and overbearing manner in which MITC leadership has operated and is not conducive to a cooperative effort. It has served to alienate some members of the Judiciary Committee, Tribal Chiefs, Legislative Leaders and Commissioners. I would like to explain the view from the my perspective as a member of the committee.
MITSC came before the Committee with a request to increase it’s budget when all programs and services were being cut. The most glaring item in their proposed budget would pay the MITSC executive director $91,786 for FY08 plus $2,500 for travel. We could not justify this when every program was being cut. We therefore refused to grant the requested increase.
MITSC justified it’s request by saying they had expanded their duties to include various areas such as education, economic development etc. The Committee felt that this expansion was duplicative as other Indian organizations were doing the same work. (Keep in mind that MITSC is created by the State.) We truly felt that MITSC was taking on duties over and above its mission.
When MITSC did not get its increase it then went to the Governor who granted the increase of $38,000 dollars. This ‘end around’ the Judiciary Committees decision was a breech of Legislative process. That, in and of itself would be reason to kill a bill. The increase of $38,000 showed up in their budget during the second round of cuts when funding was not just being cut, but programs and services were being totally eliminated.
The Judiciary Committee recommended that this increase be taken away as we felt the funding could do some good perhaps in services or programs in dire need. The excessive salary was just too much for us to ignore.
The Appropriations Committee approved the cut. MITSC then went to the media and church groups and through outside pressure got it’s funding restored. It’s present budget for FY08 is now $110,227. That does not count the tribe’s potential contributions of $11,500 each.
The next issue is the failure of the Tribal State Work Group bill.
LD2221 submitted by Representative Deborah Simpson House Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee and the TSWG. (Staffed by MITSC). I did not participate in the Tribal Sate Work Group for two reasons.
1. I was once told by an assistant attorney general that the State of Maine got such a good deal out of the Act they would never want to change it. I felt this work group was an effort in futility and a waste of tribal resources and time.
2. I felt that even if everyone including the Attorney General’s Office agreed on specific changes the next step was not immediate legislation but a process of educating the remaining legislators in the House and the Senate.
The discussions got very heated, as key members of the Judiciary Committee and Tribal negotiators deemed each requested change to the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act unacceptable for one reason or another. These were complicated legal issues and the majority of the committee had no experience in Indian law. The bottom line is this, changes in the Land Claims Settlement Act will not take place without extensive education on both sides, legal experts who have enough time to hammer these issues out and an Attorney General and Chief Executive who support the changes and will advocate for them.
Finally a bill to add land in Argyle to reservation land was also defeated.
The bill to extend reservation land to Argyle was brought up, it landed in the middle of these heated debates and hard feelings. The Penobscot Nation’s Housing Authority had requested the bill so that it could build fifty much-needed housing units on reservation land.
The tribe had never recognized the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) jurisdiction over its trust land and this piece of land was trust land. The Housing director was advised by MITSC leadership to put in a bill to change the status of the land to reservation land. The Governors office agreed to put in a Governor’s bill which would allow the late bill in. This bill came before the committee when tempers were high and distrust was rampant.
I went to the Governor’s office and asked his legal council Michael Mahoney if they were going to actively advocate and support this bill. He said “No” We have allowed you this vehicle and it’s up to you to get it passed. I knew given the failing relations on both sides that this bill had little to no chance of passing. The Committee at first voted to pass this bill but not all members were present for the vote. These members had expressed their desire to vote and to discuss a rumor that had surfaced that the tribe was going to use this land for their slot machines. This was a ridiculous and incredulous rumor but nevertheless key committee members and other legislators believed it.
The Chair called another vote and the committee was set to vote against the bill. I had mentioned to our Housing director that if the bill looked to be in trouble I had a plan to ask the Committee to submit a letter directing The Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) to work cooperatively with the Tribe with neither the Tribe nor LURC taking jurisdiction.
This way necessary permits could be obtained and the construction could move forward immediately without a court battle over jurisdiction. The Committee thought this was a good compromise. They voted in favor of the letter, which was sent to LURC.
It is true that tribal legislation suffered in this session. It is my belief that if the TSWG process were handled in a slower and wiser manner we would have had a more productive less contentious session.
The premature TSWG bill set the stage for colossal failure ending in disastrous Tribal State relations. MITSC leadership has been involved in all of the above, which has created a hostile legislative atmosphere. The Tribes and the State need to clarify the duties and the mission of MITSC or they need to totally restructure the organization.