By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians celebrated a short victory when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a Land Reaffirmation Act that addresses a legal technicality that potentially jeopardized the tribe’s reservation status.
However, over the weekend, the Alabama Political Reporter confirmed that Alabama’s Republican Senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby would not support the measure in the Senate, effectively dooming the legislation, according to highly-placed sources on The Hill.
For the legislation to pass the House, Alabama’s Congressional House delegation needed to approve the bill introduced by Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, before it came to a floor vote. Meaning that Republican Representatives Martha Roby, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, Mo Brooks, Gary Palmer, along with Democrat Terri Sewell, committed to the bill’s passage.
The bill almost came to a vote a couple of years ago, but according to insiders, Rep. Roby blindsided PCI when she pulled her support at the last minute.
For the measure to pass the Senate, both Sen. Shelby and Democrat Sen. Doug Jones would have to follow the House’s lead and approve the bill before it could come to a vote in the Senate. Insiders not permitted to speak openly on the record confirm that Sen. Shelby found the bill not in the best interest of the state.
However, spinmeisters are claiming that because Gov. Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall would not sign a letter supportive of the move, Shelby would not offer his support of the legislation. Sources say Ivey and Marshall didn’t object to the measure but wouldn’t put pen to paper making it official.
According to those with knowledge of the political wrangling, this is little more than posturing to spare feelings and save face.
Insiders behind the scenes place the blame squarely at the feet of PCI Vice President Robbie McGhee and lobbyists, Phillip and Allison Kinney. Sources say the shortsighted tactics employed by McGhee and the Kinneys has soured relationships in Montgomery and Washington. Also, the decision by the threesome to back embattled BCA Chairman Billy Canary is seen as a foolish and amateurish move which has alienated Sen. Shelby. Months ago, Sen. Shelby made it known that it was time for Canary to exit BCA, making way for new leadership. Just as McGhee and the Kinneys convinced PCI to sidle up to convicted felon and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, they’ve taken the Tribe down another dangerous road by promising Canary a lifeline should BCA lose major supporters like Alabama Power.
Byrne, in a floor speech, said, “This legislation is necessary due to the legal uncertainty caused by the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. This decision has unnecessarily created legal ambiguity about whether the Poarch Creek land is actually in trust or not.”
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar found that lands acquired by Tribes after 1932 could not be held in trust. Some of PCI’s property was not acquired into trust until 1995.
Some believe that if this issue was taken to federal court, that the Tribe could lose their federally protected trust status – something that would topple its gambling empire.
While House Congressional Republicans waved aside what might be in the state’s best interest — it appears Sen. Shelby has not.