Gover's 'activist' legacy escapes McCaleb
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JUNE 13, 2001

Should he be confirmed to run the agency, Neal McCaleb will inherit a number of politically touchy and legally thorny issues which have drawn heightened scrutiny to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But as critics of federal recognition, Indian gaming, and the trust fund debacle call for changes in the way the BIA handles these and other tasks, McCaleb's nomination has drawn little interest in comparison to that of his predecessor, Kevin Gover. Even as McCaleb stands poised to tackle the job of Assistant Secretary, more attention has been paid to the Pawnee lawyer / lobbyist since he left office than to the Chickasaw Republican who faces his confirmation hearing today.

To be sure, McCaleb's consideration for the job hasn't gone unnoticed. A number of national papers immediately covered Bush's decision to tap the Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation for the job while Gover's 1997 nomination was initially reported only by media in Indian Country and in New Mexico, where he lived at the time.

Yet the flurry on McCaleb was largely due to Gover, whose decisions are still being scrutinized by anti-Indian gaming interests who have criticized him for returning to a job for which he was trained. When public opinion does weigh in on McCaleb, its to point out Gover's alleged failings or to cast blame towards his way for a "reprehensible record of the Clinton administration" as the Boston Globe did in an editorial this week.

Interestingly enough, the continued focus on Gover was foreshadowed by a media report back in 1997. Just days before his October confirmation hearing, a New York Times writer published a column characterizing a former tribal client of Gover's as criminals and claiming that ties to Indian gaming would unfairly influence his decision making ability.

While it raised the eyebrows of many and the story was followed by other outlets, William Safire's piece was largely discredited. As it turned out, quotes he attributed to a federal judge appeared nowhere in the ruling on Tesuque Pueblo while Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) shielded Gover from the attack, assuring unanimous approval by the full Senate.

In contrast, there has been no similar coverage of McCaleb's past, which includes a particularly troubled legacy -- in the eyes of tribal leaders -- over a Reagan-era report he signed onto calling for limitations on tribal sovereignty, increased development of Indian lands, and for dismantling the BIA altogether. A spokesperson for McCaleb has said he remains proud of the report and while it may come up in today's hearing, its unlikely to pose problems for Senators.

Likewise, taxation compacts he shepherded through the Oklahoma Legislature in the wake of a Supreme Court decision his own tribe won are today likely to draw praise as a model of cooperation between tribes and states, even as tribal leaders continue to criticize him for a deal they say limits their sovereignty.

McCaleb's recent involvement in a political scuffle in his Department of Transptoration did draw some attention. But the brouhaha was largely Oklahoma-specific and had no hot-button angle like Indian gaming that would turn it into an affair of Gover proportions.

Gover, however, shrugs off the media's apparent love/hate affair with him as personal. Even though the stories mention him by name, he believes the target is indeed McCaleb.

"What worries me is not it's effect on me," said Gover of the coverage, "What worries me is that it is an attempt to intimidate the new administration, the new [Interior] Secretary, and the new Assistant Secretary."

Gover also says there is a message encoded in the attacks: "When you do things that are activist in favor in Indians, we're going to make you pay for it."

"That is a bad environment for a new Assistant Secretary," he added.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Smooth sailing expected for McCaleb today (6/13)

Relevant Links:
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -
Neal McCaleb, Oklahoma Department of Transportation -
The Chickasaw Nation -

Indianz.Com Profile:
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs: Neal McCaleb (4/18)
Biographical Sketch (4/18)

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Tribal leaders have advice for McCaleb (4/18)
Reagan returns with new administration (4/18)
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