It’s been nearly 20 years since Larry EchoHawk was elected state attorney general, but to Idaho Democrats it is the just-yesterday story of the 1990 Idaho election that resulted in a 21-21 tie in the state senate.
But just like those rare victories, EchoHawk’s star fell a brief four years later after losing the governor’s race to Phil Batt. EchoHawk had been widely expected to win.
Soon after, he left Idaho to join the law school faculty at Brigham Young University and to form an Idaho law firm with his two sons. The firm specializes in tribal representation.
When his name popped up months ago as a candidate to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which functions under the Department of the Interior, a possible conflict surfaced. EchoHawk, a member of the Oklahoma Pawnee Nation and a Mormon, hasn’t been supportive of Indian gaming. While attorney general, he asked then-Governor Cecil Andrus and the state legislature to overturn laws that required Idaho to negotiate for gaming with Indian tribes.
EchoHawk’s dislike of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was no secret, and a tribal lawyer from Washington state, Scott Cromwell, pointed this out in an open letter to tribal councils and the Obama administration.
“I urge you to look behind the euphoria of the new administration, and the great respect that rightfully belongs to the EchoHawk name, and look at the specific facts regarding this specific man, and call upon the Obama administration and [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar to choose someone other than Larry EchoHawk for this important position,” the letter said.
EchoHawk then apologized privately to several tribes, including some from Idaho, for his past actions on Indian gaming.
Shoshone-Bannock tribes chairman Alonzo Coby has strongly signaled tribal support for EchoHawk with this statement:
“As Attorney General, he supported legislation and efforts to protect native religious freedoms, salmon treaty fishing rights, and other legal matters impacting tribal sovereignty. While Attorney General, Larry also lead efforts to improve state-tribal relations through the Conference of Western Attorneys General.”
The issue of Indian gaming and land-into-trust casino proposals is big stuff at Interior, not to mention on reservations and surrounding communities. The BIA is charged with gaming oversight, contract negotiations and watchdogging a $27 billion industry. The head of the agency can hardly function as the opposition to the very concept of gaming, so EchoHawk has apparently had to swallow his distaste for gambling for the chance to head an agency under his fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama.
Full disclosure: a media consulting firm I owned in 1990 did some minor contract work for the EchoHawk for Governor campaign. In the short time I spent around him, Larry EchoHawk impressed me with a broad intellect. He is a gracious and kind person and a deeply religious Mormon. It’s hard to imagine that he’s comfortable with supporting Indian gaming after a lifetime of just the opposite. Critics and supporters alike will be anxious to know which EchoHawk reveals himself at Interior.