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Cherokee Nation economic impact on Oklahoma: Nearly $2.2 billion

CATOOSA — Cooperation among Oklahoma’s tribes and the state helped the Cherokee Nation realize a $2.169 billion economic impact in the state for fiscal year 2018.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Tuesday that maintaining the alliance is important.

“I’ve seen what happens when the state and the tribes work together,” Hoskin said. “For the past 15 years, they have had a stable and positive partnership, most notably through the gaming compact that is fair to all and is a win-win for the state of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation. Why in the world would we ever want to wreck that historic partnership?”

Hoskin’s remarks came as the tribe celebrated its most recent economic study during a luncheon at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. They also serve as a contrast to a stance taken by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt regarding renewal of the compacts and rates paid by the tribes.

The tribes say their compacts automatically renew Jan. 1 and want the governor to agree before negotiations can occur on changes to their rates. Stitt believes the compacts expire Jan. 1 and wants to negotiate new, significantly higher rates as part of a renewal. Tribes currently pay the state 4% to 10% of their gaming revenues in exchange for exclusivity rights to offer gaming.

Part of the Cherokees’ $2.2 billion total economic impact, based on a study by a team of Oklahoma City-based economists at the Economic Impact Group, was more than $836 million in wages and benefits and more than 9,600 in direct employment. The tribe paid $31.3 million in state gaming fees. A similar study in 2016 found the Cherokee Nation had an economic impact in Oklahoma of $2.03 billion.

The Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction includes all or portions of 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma, roughly 7,000 square miles.

“We are a sovereign Indian nation,” Hoskin said. “We’ve called this place home for 180 some-odd years, longer than there has been a state of Oklahoma.

“We will call this place home forever. We don’t outsource jobs. We don’t leave the state when the going gets tough. We don’t move our headquarters out of state for new production overseas. … The Cherokee Nation is in it for the long haul.”

“The Cherokee Nation is the best friend that the state of Oklahoma has ever had,” Hoskin said. “Our record-setting economic impact numbers prove it. The jobs we create prove it. Our stability, our long-term outlook prove it. Our commitment to building communities, big and small, proves it.

“But good friends must show each other respect. As chief of the Cherokee Nation, I insist upon respect for the Cherokee Nation. … Let us move forward as partners. Let us move forward with the state from a position of mutual respect. Let us continue our path to prosperity.”

Sean Kouplen is the Oklahoma secretary of commerce and workforce development.

“I believe that this nation deserves our respect, deserves our thanks, and we appreciate so much the partnership you have given the Department of Commerce and the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “When you look at the impact that 38 tribal nations have in Oklahoma, and you begin to imagine what our state would be without that tremendous impact, it’s a pretty scary thought, no question about it.”

As for the Cherokees’ impact by county, Tulsa County’s was highest at $673.7 million, followed by Rogers County ($433.6 million) and Cherokee County ($299.9 million)

“Perhaps the greatest asset that we have that differentiates us from our competition all around the country and all around the world is the support that we have from tribal governments here in Tulsa and especially in the Cherokee Nation,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said.

“As a mayor, I am so grateful that we have leadership at the Cherokee Nation that what is good for Tulsa is good for the Cherokee Nation and what is good for the Cherokee Nation is good for Tulsa.”

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Gallery: Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. sworn in

Duncan police identify victims and gunman in Walmart shooting

The Duncan Police Department released the names of the victims and gunman from Monday’s shooting in a Walmart parking lot.

Police identified Rebecca Vescio Varela, 31, of Duncan, and Aubrey P. Perkins, 39, from Minco, as the two victims shot while sitting inside a car in a Walmart parking lot on Monday morning.

The shooter, identified as Wbiliado R. Varela Jr., 43, was the husband of Vescio Varela, though police said the two were separated and that Perkins and Vescio Varela had a “dating relationship.”

Lt. John Byers was the lead investigator of the shooting and said the following timeline is what Duncan police have been able to piece together so far through video surveillance and witness interviews.

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Tulsa won't host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic. Here's why

The ongoing dispute between the city and a group of hoteliers over the Tourism Improvement District has cost Tulsa the chance to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic, officials say, and other events may be threatened.

Mike Mears, CEO of Magellan Midstream Partners and chairman of the VisitTulsa Executive Board of Directors, said in a news release Tuesday that the delay in collecting a 3% assessment on hotel stays tied to the improvement district has hamstrung efforts to recruit events.

“In this case, time is money,” Mears said in the release. “The delay in available funding from the TID has cost Tulsa an estimated $50,000 each day in lost opportunity.

“After nearly a year, we have lost our chance to bring the Bassmaster Classic back to Tulsa. The $30 million economic impact could have been revenue for our city, for our hotels and restaurants, and for our event sponsors. This one example has set Tulsa back tremendously.”

The city estimates it has lost an estimated $292,500 each month it hasn’t collected revenue from the Tourism Improvement District. Revenue hasn’t been collected since June 25, when District Judge Linda Morrissey issued a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group of Tulsa hoteliers.

Money from the Tourism Improvement District was budgeted for bids for the Bassmaster Classic and the three-year contract for the IRONMAN triathlon, leading to the loss of the fishing tournament and a gap in funding for the IRONMAN. Businesses have filled the gap with private funding, but tourism board member and Matrix Service Co. CEO John Hewitt said the move is a “short-term solution.”

Ray Hoyt, president of VisitTulsa Regional Tourism, said the delay in funding “is having a negative multiplier effect across all the tourism industry. Our prospective event pipeline is full and all available budget is already allocated to other events.”

Other events, including NCAA Regional basketball, NCAA wrestling and major equine events are reportedly at risk, according to the news release.

The Tourism Improvement District includes 33 hotels, each with 110 rooms or more, that are subject to the 3% assessment on hotel stays used to fund marketing for tourism and participating hotels. Smaller hotels may also opt in to the TID to benefit from it.

Morrissey ordered a hearing scheduled for Thursday to be canceled and notified the Attorney General’s Office of the case, according to court filings. State law requires the Attorney General’s Office to be notified if a statute or ordinance’s constitutionality is questioned.

The plaintiffs, a group of hoteliers known as TOCH LLC, have questioned the constitutionality of the state statute that governs additional improvement districts like the Tourism Improvement District, according to court records.

Lee Levinson, an investor in TOCH LLC and an attorney with Levinson, Smith and Huffman PC, said his side contends the improvement district is unconstitutional because of how it determines which hotels are subject to the tax.

“If I have 109 rooms to rent, I don’t pay anything,” Levinson said. “If I have 110, I do, and there’s no way you can reasonably come up with 110 rooms other than trying to jockey around to try and get something passed because that’s the kind of category you can get.

“It makes no sense. It’s not a reasonable classification. It’s a special tax, and I think it’s a violation of the constitution.”

Kyden Creekpaum, an attorney representing the Hyatt Downtown Tulsa, an intervenor in the case, said the city disagrees and believes the law is on its side.

“We are very confident that the statute and the TID are constitutional,” Creekpaum said. “The allegations are frivolous.”

Both sides are at an impasse despite court-ordered mediation that began after a Sept. 5 hearing. At the time, an attorney for the plaintiffs expressed optimism that the dispute could be settled by October, but the case is nearing its first anniversary in December.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the notification, known as a certification, was routine and doesn’t necessarily mean the state will get involved.

“We will evaluate it and determine the appropriate time to intervene, if at all,” Gerszewski said in an email. “By intervene we mean provide the court with our views on why the statute is constitutional, either now at the district court level or as an amicus curiae at the Supreme Court.”

Thursday’s hearing was supposed to be on both parties’ joint motion for summary judgment, and the hearing will be rescheduled once it can be verified that the Attorney General’s Office is aware of the case.

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Gallery: 2016 Bassmaster Classic first day of competition

Gallery: 2016 Bassmaster Classic first day of competition

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Republicans assail military officer who reported Trump call

WASHINGTON — A career Army officer on Donald Trump’s National Security Council testified Tuesday that he was duty-bound to object to the president’s clearly “improper” phone call seeking Ukrainian investigations of U.S. Democrats. Republicans answered him with doubts about his loyalty to the United States.

Arriving on Capitol Hill in military blue with medals across his chest, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told impeachment investigators that he felt no hesitation in reporting the president’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Vindman, a 20-year military officer who received a Purple Heart for wounds he received in the Iraq War, was among the officials who listened in to the July 25 call when Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” — investigations of Democrat Joe Biden and other issues.

“It was inappropriate. It was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent,” Vindman told the House Intelligence Committee.

His testimony launched a pivotal week as the House’s historic impeachment investigation reaches further into Trump’s White House.

Democrats say Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid to Kyiv may be grounds for removing the 45th president. Republicans have argued both that there was no linkage between the two matters and that there would be nothing inappropriate even if there was.

In a remarkable day of back-to-back hearings, Vindman testified alongside Jennifer Williams, an adviser in Vice President Mike Pence’s office. Both said they had concerns as they listened to Trump speak with the newly elected Ukrainian president about political investigations into Biden.

Trump insists that Zelenskiy did not feel pressured and has cast the impeachment probe as a partisan affair aimed at pushing him from office. The White House lashed out at the Army officer.

It wasn’t the first time Vindman was alarmed over the administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats, he testified. He highlighted a July 10 meeting at the White House when Ambassador Gordon Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to “deliver” before next steps — a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump.

“Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma in 2016,” he testified, referring to the gas company in Ukraine where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.

On both occasions, Vindman said, he took his concerns about the shifting Ukraine policy to the lead counsel at the NSC, John Eisenberg.

An immigrant who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a toddler, Vindman opened his testimony by assuring his father that in America he would be “fine for telling the truth.”

Yet Vindman spent long stretches fielding Republican attacks on his loyalty and his career in public service. The Republicans’ lead counsel asked at one point about an offer he got from a Ukrainian official to become the country’s defense minister.

Vindman called it “comical” and said he swiftly reported it up his chain of command.

“I’m an American,” Vindman said. “And I immediately dismissed these offers.”

Later Tuesday, the House committee heard from former NSC official Timothy Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who said he hadn’t understood the scope of the investigations Sondland and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, were pursuing for Trump.

Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is to appear Wednesday as the most-anticipated witness yet.

At the White House, Trump said he watched part of the day’s testimony and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a “disgrace.” Over the weekend, he had assailed Williams as part of the “Never Trumpers” who oppose his presidency, though there is no indication that she has shown any partisanship.

Vindman was ready to defend his loyalty to the United States. When the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, addressed him as “Mr. Vindman,” the colonel reminded him to address him by his rank.

He also deflected Republican efforts to get him to divulge everyone he told about the Trump call — thwarting Trump allies’ attempts to identify the anonymous whistleblower who spurred the impeachment probe.

Nunes bore down once Vindman acknowledged that one person he talked to was from the intelligence community. The whistleblower is a CIA official, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Vindman said he does not know who the whistleblower is. He previously has said it is not he.

Trump ally Jim Jordan asked if he ever leaked information. “Never did; never would,” Vindman answered.

Republicans were eager to hear during the afternoon from Morrison, who had supervised Vindman at the NSC. “He had concerns about Vindman’s judgment,” the White House tweeted.

But Morrison, who has since left the administration, told lawmakers he was not there to question his former colleagues’ “character or integrity” and did not intend to out the whistleblower.

Morrison, who was also listening to Trump’s call, worried that its disclosure would not play well in polarized Washington and reported it to the NSC’s top lawyer. He testified about his sinking feeling after Sondland told him Trump wanted Zelenskiy to announce the investigations before releasing the military aid. A colleague warned him of “the Gordon problem,” he said.

Vindman is being provided security by the U.S. Army and local law enforcement, according to a U.S. official. The official said the Army is prepared to take additional steps, if needed, including moving Vindman and his family to a more secure location on a base.

Williams, a career State Department official who has worked for three presidential administrations and counts former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a “personal hero, said the Trump phone call was the first time she had heard anyone specifically seeking investigations from Ukraine.

The reference to Biden and his son Hunter “struck me as political in nature,” she said.

Williams testified that the call was unlike about a dozen others she had heard from presidents over her career. When the White House produced a rough transcript later that day, she put it in Vice President Pence’s briefing materials. “I just don’t know if he read it,” she testified earlier in her closed-door House interview.

Pence’s role throughout the impeachment inquiry has been unclear.

The vice president’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, issued a statement saying he “heard nothing wrong or improper on the call.”

Vindman said Trump’s remarks on the call strayed from the talking points prepared for him. And both witnesses said Zelenskiy had mentioned “Burisma” but that it was missing from the rough transcript released by the White House.

At the time of the call, the officials were just beginning to make the link with the stalled military aid — $391 million approved by Congress — that Ukraine was relying on as it confronts neighboring Russia.

Vindman said the uneven power dynamic between the presidents of the East European ally and the U.S. made the demand obvious.

“The culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asks you to do something, … it’s not to be taken as a request, it’s to be taken as an order,” he said.