Scott Walker Threw His State’s Poorest Native American Tribe Under The Bus; Why Would He Do It?

The Menominee tribe claims to be the only truly indigenous tribe in Wisconsin. Their reservation is near where their tribe originated; with its five clans — Bear, Eagle, Wolf, Moose, and Crane — the Menominee dwelt on the river of the same name for thousands of years. Then the settlers came and the tribe was relegated to a reservation 60 miles away.

The Menominee has another distinction: they are the poorest tribe in Wisconsin. The per capita income is $10,600. Even though they currently have a casino, less than half of their tribe — which numbers 8,700 —  are able to live on their reservation. Lack of housing and employment, as well as an aging infrastructure contribute to the inability to take on additional residents. These also prevent new businesses or other economic developments.

To help remedy this situation, the Menominee entered into an agreement with Hard Rock International to open a new casino in Kenosha. The new facility, which would be built on the grounds of an old greyhound racing track, would bring 6,500-10,000 new jobs to Wisconsin, along with $1.2 billion in taxes over the next 25 years. The project was approved (PDF) by The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (Dept. of the Interior) in August of 2013. That agency gave Gov. Scott Walker a year to make a decision on whether the project would move forward.

Walker took that entire year and then postponed his decision until after the 2012 election. He then denied the Menominee permission to go ahead with the project. Even after a tribal rally in the state house — some tribe members walked from their homes 155 miles away, for 6 days, in the bone-chilling cold to attend — Walker rejected calls to reconsider. He refused to meet tribal leaders who participated in the long, cold walk from their homes, even as they stood at his door.  Even though the tribe promised to donate $220 million for a new sports arena in Milwaukee, Walker rebuked their request.

This makes no sense. Why would Walker turn down 6,500-10,000 jobs for Wisconsin, in a county that has a 6% unemployment rate? Why did he reject a business that would have been one of the state’s largest employers? One that has bi-partisan support? One that the voters of Wisconsin overwhelmingly support? There are a few theories — just theories — none are intended to be construed as evidence or accusation of illegal conduct:

1. Perhaps it was the potential litigation from the one of the other tribes who owns and operates a casino: the Potowatomi. They threatened to sue for potential lost revenue. However, advisors said that this was a “negligible” threat. Even so, the Menominee promised to put up a bond to cover the possibility. Despite this, Walker made believe that the lawsuit threat was a risk, for which the previous governor was responsible. This theory, that other tribes scared Walker into blocking the Menominee’s new venture, is the simplest.

2. Or maybe it was revenge? When Walker was the object of a recall election in 2012, he received a hefty $700,000 donation from the Club For Growth. Yes, the one funded primarily by the Koch brothers, who channeled that $700K from a business called Gogebic Taconite, a Florida mining company. They wanted to mine taconite in Wisconsin, but all the state’s tribes — and most residents — opposed this open-pit mining. It would take a re-write of Wisconsin’s mining laws to allow it. So Walker re-wrote state mining regulations to allow an open-pit mine. Soon after that, the Menominee asked for him to okay their casino. The Menominee opposed the mining. So Walker paid them back by denying their request.

3. Blame it on Iowa. Everyone knows that you must have Iowa on your side to have a shot of the presidency. Last year, Walker received two letters from Iowa conservatives: one letter was written by Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader. Vander Plaats told Walker that…

“… according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, Native tribes could only build casinos on their reservations, and that the off-reservation Kenosha casino would constitute a dangerous precedent.”

He was wrong, of course. It’s fine as long as the Dept. of the Interior approves it. And, in this case, it did. The other letter came from Tom Coates, an anti-gambling business man. His letter included “600 signatures” of possible caucus attendees. Some of the names on the list are high up in the Iowa Republican scene. So maybe Walker got spooked and threw his state over for Iowa to further his chances.

4. It was the lobbyists, with the money, in the State House. The Menominee, being the poorest tribe in Wisconsin, don’t have much money for lobbying. The Potowatomi do. They spent over $6.6 million on lobbying on this issue and are represented by the powerful BRG Group, known as a “mega-lobbyist.” With a founder as well-known as Haley Barbour, that’s no surprise. There is a whole incestuous relationship between Barbour, Tom DeLay, Vander Plaats and Ralph Reed (head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition). Could this super-lobbying effort have influenced Walker?

If any of these theories is correct, they could paint Walker as worse than he already seems. And that could have an impact of his role as the new “golden boy” of the GOP. We know that the right won’t care about a small tribe in Wisconsin, but if Walker were the GOP candidate in 2016, he will have to get through a general election. And things like this — screwing over the poorest people in his state possibly for revenge or money or ambition — won’t sit well with the voters en masse.

The decision can still be reversed. Here’s how you can help… a petition has been created on You can sign that. Or you can contact Scott Walker directly:

Walker’s email: [email protected]

Snail mail: Office of Governor Scott Walker
115 East Capitol
Madison, WI 53702

Office Phone: (608) 266-1212

Let Walker know that you do not support his decision to cripple the Menominee tribe’s attempts to further themselves and Wisconsin.


H/T: Reverb Press | Photo: Wisconsin Public Radio