Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

Introduction
Watching the Cash
Astroturf Opposition
Raise Your Right Hand
The Decision
Excerpts from C-SPAN
Comments/feedback
Astroturf Opposition
After contacting the Interior Department, White House aide Jennifer O’Connor (no relation to Patrick O’Connor) wrote a memo to her boss, Harold Ickes. She informed him that the Hudson casino application was ready to be killed.

O’Connor noted that Interior’s justification for the casino denial focused on three areas of concern: political opposition from the Minnesota congressional delegation as well as that state’s tribal casino interests; political fallout from the expansion of Indian gaming; and, finally, the excuse Interior would settle upon publicly to scuttle the casino, sentiment in the town of Hudson.

“The local community is almost uniformly opposed to the casino,” wrote O’Connor.

Following an inquiry from a senator, Babbitt asked special assistant Heather Sibbison to write a memorandum in reply.

Sibbison confirmed the importance of local resistance as a justification. It was the first line of defense in her response.

“The Common Council of the City of Hudson adopted a resolution expressing opposition to casino gambling at the dog track . . . ,” wrote Sibbison.

Indeed, when the announcement of denial was issued on July 14, the deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Michael Anderson, wrote in his three-page order: “. . . the Common Council of the City of Hudson adopted a resolution expressing its opposition to casino gambling . . .”

None of which is true.

Hudson’s city fathers never adopted a resolution opposing the casino.

Like any controversial issue, gambling had its supporters as well as detractors in Hudson.

Voters, however, had approved gaming at the polls and the town had signed a contract with the casino operators contingent on Interior’s approval. Opponents refused to accept the results, pushing a resolution through the council that said that while the casino was not opposed, neither was it supported.

Still not satisfied, anticasino forces attempted to get a resolution passed that specifically opposed the casino.

Unfortunately, the momentous council vote that both the White House and Interior hid behind was a clumsy charade covered in the greasy fingerprints of the rich tribes and their antigaming allies in Hudson. As much as an expression of local community will, the council’s behavior had its roots in gambling interests in Minnesota. In the end, the antigaming initiative was so transparent, so beyond the law, that its sponsors in Hudson were forced to drop the matter.

Meet the Tilsen family.

Ken Tilsen is an attorney who practiced for decades in Minnesota before taking up arms in Wisconsin.

Asked in a deposition about Tilsen’s identity, lobbyist Patrick O’Connor is vague.

“He has done some work for some of the Indians. I can’t recall which tribe,” said O’Connor.

More to the point, the minutes for the March 16, 1994, meeting of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association reflect Tilsen’s presence and participation:

“. . . Mr. McCarthy took the roll, a quorum was present. Mr. Ellis (chairman) introduced Mr. Ken Tilsen who gave a report on the (Hudson) dog-track issue. Doug Twait made a comment thanking Mr. Tilsen for his comments. Mr. Townsend asked some questions on the financial issue and on the position of the Governor of Wisconsin. Mr. McCarthy was instructed to set up another meeting with Mr. Tilsen.”

Back in Wisconsin, Tilsen served on two informal committees: A Better Future for Hudson and the Friends of Hudson.

The Better Future committee stirred up opposition to the casino and even purchased a full-page ad in the local daily; Tilsen wrote the ad’s text.

The other committee, the Friends of Hudson, worked to get John Breault, an antigambling candidate, elected mayor.

On behalf of Breault, the Friends of Hudson did two mailings. In order to buff these mailings to their highest luster, the Friends of Hudson used a firm to organize a telephone polling operation. In the idyllic environs of Hudson, this was big-city slick.

The telephone polling was done by an outfit called Direct Expression.

Registered in Minnesota, Direct Expression is a firm specializing in American Indian gaming promotion, according to state records. It worked on behalf of the Prairie Island Sioux, one of the wealthy Minnesota tribes opposed to the Hudson casino.

Direct Expression is owned and operated by Mark and David Tilsen, sons of Ken Tilsen.

Once in office, Mayor Breault organized a council resolution to oppose the casino portraying it as detrimental to the town of Hudson.

The motion said that crowds at the casino would swamp city services, forcing Hudson to, for example, build a brand-new waste-treatment plant.

Oddly enough, no one from Hudson’s city staff had supplied any of the information in the motion.

Asked if there was a shred of evidence to support these ominous predictions, Mayor Breault admitted in deposition, “Doesn’t look that way.”

Trapped, the mayor admitted that the motion was written, not by the Hudson city attorney, but by the Friends of Hudson.

And where did the Friends of Hudson get the projections for the number of gamblers that would flock into the casino and overwhelm the infrastructure?

From the wealthy tribes opposed to the Hudson casino.

Hudson city attorney William Radosevich was out of town when this remarkable resolution surfaced. Upon his return, Radosevich quickly drafted a letter warning the council that this reckless behavior would land everyone in court and the ensuing judgment might well bankrupt the town.

He reminded the mayor and council that the town had entered into a contract with the casino to provide services in return for yearly revenues of $1.15 million. Not only could they be taken to court for breach of contract, but if the Interior Department used the bogus motion as any sort of justification for denying the application, the town of Hudson would be liable for damages in excess of . . . readers may insert a really huge number here.

And so the motion died.

Only to be resurrected again by the Friends of Hudson, who, according to court records, forwarded the phony motion to officials at the Department of the Interior.

On July 14, Interior administrator Michael Anderson denied the casino application, confusing the two motions by the mayor and council of Hudson and citing the overwhelming local opposition.

The tribes who lost their casino sued the town of Hudson.

A Wisconsin state prosecutor is also investigating the campaign finances of Mayor Breault.

In their rush to deny the application, the Interior Department ignored the residents of Hudson who, in the only plebiscite on the issue, voted in 1994 to welcome the casino.

--Lacey


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As originally published in Phoenix New Times