There was one more push for the Kenosha casino at the Capitol on Tuesday. The eleventh hour appeal to Governor Scott Walker focused on the needs of the Menominee tribe and Menominee County, the poorest of the state’s 72 counties where last month’s unemployment rate stood at 17 percent.
“We think there’s room for creativity with the payments to the state, raising them from 7.5 percent up to 10, 11, 12,” said Menominee Tribal Chair Craig Corn. “I think the foundation and the framework is their for Kenosha, the Menominee, and Wisconsin.
AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:60)
The governor, who is expected to announce a decision this week, has required buy-in from all the state’s tribes, and the Ho Chunk – and especially the Forest County Potawatomi – remain opposed. Walker also said the Kenosha casino if built would violate his condition of no net gambling increase in the state.
Tuesday’s press conference at the Capitol came hours before a rally by a coalition of Tea Party and conservative groups, which urged the governor to reject the project on the grounds that it would benefit organized labor by providing union jobs during the project’s construction and after completion. Building trades representatives in southeast Wisconsin have been supportive of the project. The Menominee have partnered with Hard Rock International and the Seminoles of Florida to build and operate the casino at the shuttered Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha. The project has a projected cost in excess of $800 million.
Also speaking Tuesday was Ada Deer, a Menominee tribal member and former Assistant Secretary of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Deer noted that the BIA green lighted the proposal to build a Menominee casino on off reservation land earlier this summer, after an exhaustive nine-year process. Deer asked the governor to consider what the casino would mean for the more than 8,700 tribal members “who have so much to gain from this casino, and so much more to lose it it’s not approved.”
Also speaking in support of the project was state Representative Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) who represents the Menominee in the Assembly. “I’ve supported this endeavor from day one,” Mursau said. “The level of poverty that’s there is unsurpassed in the whole state.”
In addition to the state’s highest unemployment rate, Corn cited census data showing Menominee County ranks the lowest in the state in overall health quality and highest in the number of children living in poverty. “We are desperate to change this sad human condition, and give our people futures that are bright and filled with possibility,” said Corn. “The Kenosha project will allow our tribe to finally have the economic opportunities that fellow tribes now enjoy.”
Menominee tribal vice-chair Lisa Wauka said Walker could expect great things, if he approved the project. “Heres what’s going to happen. Moms are going to name their children after you, Scott Walker” Wauka predicted. “There will be a lot of Scotts and lot of Walkers running around.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), an initial opponent of the project, is also supportive, Vos said that is because his constituents in southeast Wisconsin want to see the casino built.
Still, at the end of the press conference, Corn conceded there have been no recent discussions. “No. We have not had any discussions with Governor Walker or his staff. However, we welcome the opportunity to help him with that creative solution.”