Last week Jerry Brown gave California's Native American tribes a Valentine's Day present--a place at the table in his administration. Brown appointed Cynthia Gomez, a prominent Native American leader, to the new post of tribal adviser.
The position pays $140,000 annually. According to the terms of an executive order issued by the governor last September, the position was formed "to strengthen communication and collaboration between California state government and Native American Tribes."
On the one hand it's hard to blame Brown for including the tribes. After all. California received $370 million in 2010 in taxes from Indian gaming revenues totaling more than $7 billion. As such, the tribes have a role in the state's income streams. And rumor has it that the tribes want to renegotiate their contract with the state in the near future.
On the other hand, one wonders why the governor would bring an interest group into the inner sanctum of his policy-making machinery.
Should there be an alcoholic beverages adviser?
A banking industry adviser?
A high tech industry adviser?
The interesting fact is that the state already has a unit that presides over Indian gaming and related issues--it's called the California Gambling Control Commission. The commission's responsibilities include setting policies and regulations for tribal gaming.
Added to the mystery is the fact that Brown has demonstrated a willingness to pare state bureaucracy, rather than add to it. For example, he has refused to appoint a secretary of education because the state has a superintendent of public instruction who heads public education. In addition, Brown has asked the legislature to eliminate dozens of boards and commissions that do little more than serve as outposts for various interests.
None of this is to say that the concerns of Native Americans should not be expressed and heard. Of course, they should, as well as the concerns of Latinos, African-Americans, women, the poor, and lots of others in need of attention.
For now, the appointment remains a mystery. But don't be surprised if somewhere down the road expanded Native American gaming climbs on to the state's public agenda in the near future. More than ever, that group has a person on the inside.