In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley speak with Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation. Hoskin discusses Cherokee Nation’s investments in health and education, the tribe’s perspective on renegotiating gaming compacts, and more.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and election. I'm Dick Pryor, here with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And, Shawn, our guest is Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation Secretary of State. Welcome.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.: Great to be here, guys.
Pryor: Good to have you with us.
Shawn Ashley: We usually talk about what's going on under the state capitol dome, but there are 39 sovereign Native American nations in Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation is one of those. What are some of those things happening today in the Cherokee Nation?
Hoskin Jr.: The most exciting thing happening right now in the Cherokee Nation is we're building the largest health center in the country for Native Americans. It's in Talequah. It's about 470,000 square feet. We're investing about 200 million dollars and we've got a joint venture with the Indian Health Service. But that's a job creator. It's increasing access to health care. It's harnessing federal dollars and Medicaid dollars into a community, and what we show, I think, the state when we do something like that is you can invest in something like health care and you can create some good economic activity through that. And I think that's a good way to lead by example is health care. But there's a lot of other things. We're investing in education, investing in infrastructure. Our housing program I think is the most progressive housing program in the country for Native Americans and so we've got a lot that we feel proud about. And I think from a statewide perspective we hope again we're leading by example and that policymakers are are taking note of what we're doing.
Pryor: What issues are most important to tribal members in this election year in Oklahoma?
Hoskin Jr.: Well I think for tribal members it's in many ways no different than folks in the rest of the state. I mean we've looked at what's happened during the past decade. I've been in public service to the Cherokee Nation for about a decade so I've seen sort of what the state's been doing and I think most Oklahomans and most Cherokee citizens are worried about the state of our education that we're spending less today as you know adjusted for inflation than we did 10 years ago. That class sizes are bigger than the states commitment to things like higher education is not what it used to be and as fact on a I think a downward slide. And so I think people are concerned about education, whether they're Cherokee or whether they're non-Indian in Oklahoma.
Ashley: And the Cherokee Nation has been involved in supporting education in various parts of the state.
Hoskin Jr.: We certainly have. I mean one measure of that is our car tag revenue. We could spend that car tag revenue any way we want. We have a commitment under our compact to spend it on education, but we can spend it any way we want. I think it's telling how we choose to spend it. We send 38 percent of our tag revenue to Oklahoma public schools, so we cut them a check. Last year it totaled 5.5 million dollars to 162 school districts. Now, ideally, and really what the vision of that was was if the state could meet its commitment and then we could add money on top some of these schools these rural schools that sometimes struggle that they could do some new and innovative things. But right now that money is really filling a gap. So our commitment to education, I think, is appropriate. And I think it's what the state ought to be doing.
Ashley: You mentioned your investment in the health care facility there in Tahlequah. And of course most people think of the casinos. What other economic ventures are you involved in?
Hoskin Jr.: The casinos are the big face of our businesses, but about 60 percent is gaming, but about 40 percent is non-0gaming. So one of the biggest growth areas is in our, what we call our diversified businesses...a lot of federal contracting. We have a business presence in 47 states right now. A lot of it is at military bases where we're doing business for the government, government contracting. And some folks ask, well does that help Northeast Oklahoma? It does because so many of those support jobs that support those contracts are created at our corporate headquarters in Catoosa. And so we're doing more than gaming.
But here's the other thing we're doing, and I think this is more exciting to me and to Chief Baker really even than the direct jobs that we're creating. By the way, we employ about 12000 people in northeast Oklahoma, one of the largest employers. But what excites us I think more than that is that when we do something to partner with the state or local economic development folks to bring jobs to northeast Oklahoma. I can take you to South Coffeyville. South Coffeyville as a town of about less than 900 people they didn't have a grocery store before our casino came in a few years ago. They got a dollar general which may not excite a lot of folks but it makes all the difference in the world if you live in South Coffeyville and you're an elder or you're a poor person. And so that increased the vitality that community. But the best thing was when we got that manufacturing facility into an old foundry in South Coffeyville. That's creating hundreds of jobs in a community that hadn't seen 'em for a long time. I can take you to different parts of Cherokee Nation, and we're as proud of those jobs as we are proud of the jobs at our casinos because it shows that we're helping diversify this economy. It shows that we're good partners. And so that's the other thing we're doing to help raise the economy in northeast Oklahoma.
Ashley: What do tribes hope to see out of the next governor in Oklahoma?
Hoskin Jr.: We want the governor's ear when it comes to things like compacts, when we have gaming compacts that will be coming up, and we, of course we just recently adjusted those compacts to allow some additional gaming. So we want fairness out of the governor's mansion. We want an ear of their staff. We want the state legislature to respect us and consult us on things. And I think over time we've seen that, and the good thing is is irrespective of which party has been involved, whether it's Republican or Democrat, we've built good relationships so we feel really good about where we, Cherokee Nation, are positioned right now.
Ashley: You mentioned the gaming compacts expiring soon and coming up for renegotiation. Would you like to see any significant changes in those or if not what are you looking at.?
Hoskin Jr.: I think that the gaming compacts are a good deal right now. I mean think about what the state has had the opportunity to do during the last decade. There's been a billion dollars from the tribes through our gaming revenues go to the state legislature. Now, unfortunately, during the last decade you can erase that billion dollars through... If you look at some of the tax cuts that have essentially eroded that revenue. Some folks in the state question are the tribes paying their fair share, and they look towards the next compact and say should we adjust that. Look it's not our fault that the state chose to essentially pay for tax cuts on the backs of that revenue. I think if the state had made different choices we'd see the needle moving up in things like education, things of that nature. So I think the state just needs to make better public policy choices in the same way that the tribes have. And I think if we keep the compacts going the way they are I think they'll serve everyone well.
Pryor: Chuck, there's been talk of reorganizing the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Where does that stand?
Hoskin Jr.: Well right now they are doing a listening tour across Indian country to hear from tribal leaders about what we think about it. The main thing is before anything is done there needs to be meaningful consultation. I mean, remember, the tribes were here before the federal government was here, before the Constitution was here. We have a sovereign government to government relationship with the government the United States and when they make changes to agencies that are the means by which they deal with us they need to engage in meaningful consultation. I don't know that we've seen them consult with us to the level that they ought to, but rest assured Cherokee Nation is weighing in.
We don't want to see a situation where regional offices are consolidated to the point where tribes have difficulty accessing their federal agency partners. Make sure, frankly, that budgets are sound, that we're not trying to balance the budget on the backs of Indian country, which has happened at different times. The Bureau of Indian affairs operates on a fairly lean budget and those programs are important to us. So that's a great concern for. But right now it's still on the drawing board, and we're going to stay engaged to make sure that we don't lose any footholds in these agencies.
Pryor: Chuck Hoskin Jr., thanks for joining us on Capitol insider.
Hoskin Jr.: Well thank you both. Good to be here.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or ontact us on Twitter: @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.