Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1997 | 10:30 a.m.
ALLOW ME TO SUGGEST that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt continue working to preserve the wildlife and federal lands that come under his jurisdiction. Indian reservations also are a responsibility of his, but social and other activities that have a direct effect upon the laws of states in which they reside are very important. The governors of the several states have legal responsibilities to enforce the state laws and protect their constituents from challenges both internally and externally. There is no room for the Interior secretary to play super governor as some planned regulations appear to dictate.
Bruce Babbitt was an outstanding attorney general and governor for Arizona. I first came to know him when serving as Nevada's governor, and he was Arizona's top elected law enforcement officer. He was a no-nonsense attorney who recognized problems and, in a cooperative manner, usually came up with solutions that were acceptable to surrounding states.
During the following years, we became good friends when working with former President Jimmy Carter sponsoring free elections in Nicaragua. Bruce and his wife Hattie were invaluable members of the Carter Center. Speaking excellent Spanish and showing a real concern for the farmers and poor city dwellers, they worked night and day to bring democracy to Central America. During the first election, I worked with Hattie registering voters, and it was a most productive and pleasant experience.
During Babbitt's five years in the cabinet of President Bill Clinton, he has truly been a friend of nature and has earned conservation credentials that would have made President Teddy Roosevelt proud. Southern Nevadans should be very pleased with Babbitt's fairness in handling the conflicts arising as thirsty Clark County seeks more water from the Colorado River. In being fair, he has drawn some heat from his home state, but he has been around political heat for the past three decades and it hasn't stopped him from doing what's right.
Despite my respect for Babbitt, I must strongly object to the regulation we are told will give him power to approve Indian casinos despite objections from the governor of a state. He knows that this isn't a good regulation, and it flies in the face of good government. It's a bad regulation and, no matter how fair Babbitt would be in its use, there's no justification for it. Laws, rules and regulations should only be put in place when they make good sense, are fair and result in good government. Giving a federal cabinet officer power to override the governor of a state on an issue that should eventually be determined by the people of the state doesn't meet these criteria.
Legal casino gambling has been part of Nevada for several generations, while other states have allowed only limited or no gambling at all. The citizens of every state must determine what, if any, gambling should be allowed within its borders. If a state determines it will allow horse racing and bingo but not slot machines and craps tables, then a federal officer shouldn't have the power to allow slots and craps on an Indian reservation within the borders of that state. On the other hand, if the state does have slots and craps, it would be wise for the federal government and the Indians to cooperate in enforcing the laws designed by the state to protect the players, tribes and the integrity of the games. We already have learned the federal government doesn't have an adequate gaming control agency.
Despite the experiences I have had with Bruce Babbitt, this suggested regulation is way out of bounds and can be easily abused. At the very best, President Clinton and Secretary Babbitt have only three years remaining as federal officials. What happens when Babbitt is replaced by a person who hasn't been a governor or has larceny in his or her heart? Laws, rules and regulations shouldn't be made with one person in mind as an enforcer. Statutes and regulations, no matter how bad, always seem to outlive those who write or enforce them.
If, in fact, Babbitt really plans to promote this kind of regulatory nonsense, it's the responsibility of every governor and member of Congress to take him to the mat on it. Let's hope that President Clinton, also a former governor, recognizes the obvious faults in such regulations and tells his loyal cabinet member to cool it.