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This week a group of Iowa social conservatives issued Gov. Scott Walker an ultimatum: If you want to be president, kill the Kenosha casino, they said.
To which I retort: Butt out. Maybe the Iowa Republicans should focus their umbrage on their own riverboats instead.
It’s frankly annoying that some Republicans in Iowa are meddling in Wisconsin’s ability to create jobs by trying to badger the governor into putting his presidential ambitions first and saying they would praise him for acting cravenly political. And we’re talking about lots of jobs here, about 5,000 of them.
The Republicans hinged their opposition to the casino (which Walker must decide on by Feb. 16) on moral grounds. They said that gaming causes a host of social ills. This isn’t untrue. As with any "vice," gaming is a double-edged sword. But if Walker were to kill the casino on moral grounds, then he should get rid of the state lottery on the same grounds next. And he should start a movement to outlaw alcohol because some people abuse it (oh, wait, we already tried that). You get the point. They didn’t issue any demands about those things. It’s worth questioning why.
Republicans who oppose nanny state actions like moves to make us eat healthier and abhor big government now want government to tell me I can’t stick a nickel in a slot. Go figure.
There are any number of vices that some people abuse, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us shouldn’t get to partake in them (I like going to Indian casinos, although I go about once or twice a year and spend about 40 bucks on nickel slots. I am the epitome of a low roller. But if I want to be a low roller, that’s my business, not government’s).
I’ve long predicted that Gov. Walker will kill the casino; I just don’t think any of the reasons that he might kill it are very good ones (see above-mentioned morality objection). Among them: The fact the Potawatomi have been Republican friends, and the fact that the Menominee vote overwhelming Dem. Who cares?
One-by-one, the casino backers have removed other objections-that-shouldn’t-matter (such as the fact the casino jobs might have been unionized).
The federal government just removed another – overturning an arbitrator’s amendment that said the state would have to reimburse the Potawatomi for any losses incurred because of a Kenosha casino (Jim Doyle’s compact had stipulated arbitration if a new casino affected the Potawatomi revenue). This should pave the way for a Walker approval. Yet, we get more dithering as a Michigan law firm continues raking in the big bucks to help the governor make up his mind.
To me, there are three clear reasons for Walker to approve the Kenosha casino.
The first is obvious: Wisconsin needs the jobs. All of the rhetoric from the last campaign focused around job creation. I wasn’t aware that some jobs were desired and others didn’t count. And we’re not talking about a few jobs here or there. We’re talking about thousands of jobs.
Would those jobs simply be lost in Milwaukee in a rob Peter to pay Paul scenario? I don’t know. That’s a hypothetical. But you don’t not allow a Menard’s because it might theoretically affect Home Depot. The general principle – when not talking about Indian casinos – is that competition makes a company build a better product. That might be the case here; maybe the Potawatomi will offer a better product to compete. It’s bizarre for a conservative to argue that competition is bad. It’s also the case that the casinos might appeal to different markets, as the Kenosha casino might draw more of the Illinois crowd. We should do what’s good for the state, not a single tribe that, even if it loses some money, will still be raking it in.
Walker also should not let the Potawatomi continue to try hijacking the state with its "allow us to maintain our monopoly or else dictate" especially now that the feds have rejected that argument, putting the state on stronger legal ground.
Secondly, the casino follows all of the principles as outlined by conservatives. They talk about the free market. I agree that Indian gaming is not a free market per se because it’s heavily regulated and not open to all. But within that framework, I think the market should be as free as possible.
Some tribes should not be favored over others. All tribes should have an equal right to compete (and don’t say non tribes should be able to create casinos too; the Legislature could change that, but hasn’t, and Indian nations have casinos because of very complex treaties and sovereignty rights). Walker’s now-forgotten once-demand that all tribes must agree to approve the casino was ludicrous and just cover to kill it. It was like asking Pick N Save to approve a new Piggly Wiggly.
The casino also follows the conservative principle of entrepreneurship. We are supposed to believe it’s bad to be on the dole or dependent on government, yet some would reject the Menominee Nation’s attempt to become more self-sufficient through entrepreneurship. I say good for them.
This gets me to my final point, which is perhaps the most critical one, and I think it’s (sadly) an almost lost factor in this debate, which is interesting. And that is the moral obligation that we have to the Menominee people.
If you know anything about the history of the Menominee, our state’s indigenous tribe, you know that there is a long history of disastrous governmental intervention. For example, in the 1950s, the federal government embarked on a rare policy of terminating the tribe’s status, which is now widely regarded as disastrous. It was at that time that the tribe became less self-sufficient than it was even then and many Indians moved to the cities, such as Milwaukee.
A UW report found in one recent year that Menominee County, which houses the reservation, has the highest rates of many social ills, including violent crime (which is interesting because of the media fixation on Milwaukee crime).
In recent years, Menominee County also fared worst for median income, poverty, and unemployment (in a recent year, the unemployment rate of Menominee County was the highest of any county in the state and twice as high as the state's). When Walker talks about the state moving forward and improving, that needs to happen for all people, not just some. Furthermore, there is also a cost to the state from all of these social ills.
In a recent year, the tribe had the highest mortality rate of any county, including the highest rates of almost ALL chronic illnesses in the state, mammogram screening, teen birth rate, STDS, motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital visits, high school dropout rate, divorce rate, and single-parent households. There’s more, but you get the point.
The Kenosha casino will help the tribe reduce its dependence on government and provide services and uplift its people, and this is also a moral question that matters.
For all of these reasons, Gov. Walker should ignore the Iowa Republicans and approve the Kenosha casino. Get this done. Sadly, I fear he won’t.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.