If DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton was going to propose a metro casino, as he did Monday, why didn’t he tell Native Americans directly at the “first-ever cross-tribal government forum” just 10 days earlier?
“It never came up,” Dayton replies.
Here’s the backdrop: lefty groups Take Action Minnesota and the Wellstone Action Fund, plus the Native Vote Alliance and ACLU-Mn sponsored the Jan. 15 Bemidji gathering. Nine DFL candidates, including Dayton, were quizzed by small groups of attendees.
“Like speed dating,” the former Senator says, adding there was no opportunity to give a speech, merely respond to rapid-fire, small-group questions.
However, the crowd also received copies of a candidate questionnaire. One question dealt directly with the casino monopoly the state and the tribes agreed to in the ’80s: “What will you do to honor the government-to-government relationship with the tribes? Will you honor the gaming compacts with the tribes of Minnesota under their current scope and terms?”
“The United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, has conferred separate and sovereign status and rights upon tribal governments. As Governor, I would, of course, honor those constitutional rights and guarantees. I would treat each Tribal Chair, as I always have, with the dignity and respect they deserve. I will honor the compacts with the tribes of Minnesota under their current scope and terms”.
Technically, Dayton’s casino proposal and this response don’t contradict; the compact doesn’t guarantee a monopoly. Still, it seems disingenuous not to say something about supporting a rival facility that could only suck money away from the tribes.
In effect, Dayton says complainers should pay better attention: “I’m on record since 1998 saying this.” And he’s right; in August 1997, during his last gubernatorial run, Dayton pitched a Mall of America playpen.
Still, that was 13 years ago, and more than a few circumstances have changed. Back then, Dayton floated the idea to fund a Twins stadium, among other facets; now it’s to help fill a budget shortfall.
Dayton is unrepentant about the timing of his disclosure — which came during a Monday press conference that focused on his tax-raising plan — and certainly isn’t backing down from the idea.
“I don’t see how this has any effect on any tribe, other than Mystic Lake,” he says (though proprietors of other state casinos, like Treasure Island, likely disagree). “The metro area has one casino, a government-protected monopoly, where people make $1 million a year tax-free. I’m an equal opportunity revenue-raiser on millionaires, no matter their race, nationality or religion.”
For most of the DFL, messing with tribal gaming truly represents the third rail of politics. Part of that is the tribes’ considerable donations, and part is the party’s philosophical belief that tribes deserve the unimpeded gaming concession as recompense for past exploitation.
Dayton lost that 1998 race, but bounced back to become Senator in 2000. Over the years, polls have found support and opposition for gambling expansion, but even if Dayton’s position is held by a minority of the DFL primary electorate, in a crowded field, his stand might help get him to the general election.