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Notable Ute wars included the Walker War of 1853-54, the Black Hawk War of 1865-72 and the Posey War of 1923. Now add to the list the tribe's political war of 2016 against U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop.
The tribe provided $100,000 in startup money for the new Ute Indian Tribe Political Action Committee. That PAC has contracted for at least $40,000 in ads that would air on Utah broadcast TV stations, accusing Bishop of attempting the "first Indian land theft in 100 years," and more are coming to cable TV. The ads also are online.
That $100,000 is slightly more than Bishop's Democratic opponent, Peter Clemens, reported raising this cycle through Sept. 30 $98,596.
Meanwhile, Bishop's campaign is questioning whether Clemens and the tribe may have crossed legal lines that bar coordination between them. It provided a copy of a fundraising email in which Clemens' campaign appears to seek money to run its own TV ads at the same time as the tribe "in order to hit Bishop from two fronts."
But Clemens said Tuesday that email came from an overzealous unpaid volunteer, without approval of his campaign. "We have nothing to do with what the tribe is doing." He said they are not coordinating activities, "and we are not communicating with each other."
"It's a land grab," Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the tribe, said about Bishop's proposed Public Lands Initiative legislation. Bishop says the PLI seeks to end decades of fights over public lands by determining which should be protected, and which may be developed and he insists that he negotiated with all willing stakeholders.
But Chapoose said the legislation would "go within boundaries that are under the jurisdiction and authority of the Ute Tribe and take land out" for trades to consolidate state school trust lands now scattered in a checkerboard fashion. "It was attempted in court, and it failed so now it is a land grab."
The PLI also would create regulations that would bar development on another 200,000 acres of tribal land, he said.
Andy Pierucci, Bishop's campaign manager, disagrees.
"The area in question is owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management," he said. "It's not tribal lands."
Pierucci adds that "at the Ute Tribe's suggestion, [Bishop's legislation] specifically prohibits transfer of lands owned and controlled by any tribe. The PLI does not dictate the use of tribal lands at all."
He added, "I'm disappointed that they are misleading on this issue."
Chapoose said he is upset that Bishop says he talked to Utah's tribes. "He's talked to some Indians in the state of Utah," but said direct communication with the tribes and their leaders "has never happened."
He said Bishop refused to discuss the PLI with Ute tribal leaders. "It's hard to feel good about somebody who's not willing to bring one of the stakeholders to the table."
So he said the tribe took $100,000 out of its general fund to launch the PAC. Because that money could go to other important issues such as housing, he said it shows how upset the tribe is. While $100,000 is a lot, he said, "how much money have I spent going to court to protect my land? Millions of dollars 100,000 acres is a lot of land."
The PAC was formed Sept. 29, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. It has yet to file forms disclosing donors. But Robert Lucero Jr., executive director of the PAC, said it has a deadline to file that report later this week. He said the PAC is raising money from donors beyond the tribe.
Meanwhile, Pierucci questions whether the new PAC and Clemens' campaign may have run afoul of rules banning coordination of their activities.
He provided a fundraising email from Karen Thurber, identified in the email as a Clemens campaign volunteer, saying "Bishop is about to get blindsided" by Ute Tribe ads, and "in order to hit Bishop from two fronts, the campaign needs an additional $16,000 to buy up to 6,000 critical TV spots" of its own.
Clemens said Thurber, an unpaid volunteer, sent that email without vetting or permission by his campaign, using her own email. He called it the action of an overzealous worker, and said she has been asked to leave the campaign.
Clemens said his campaign has not coordinated with the tribe.
While Bishop is at odds with the Utes, he has attracted support from other tribes as chairman of the House Resources Committee.Disclosure forms show that this cycle, he has raised $55,500 from 19 tribes around the country all outside Utah and all with casinos. Chapoose said such tribes usually have business before the Natural Resources Committee led by Bishop. "So, of course, they are going to support him. Heck, I'd support him if he was doing something in my favor."