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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Trump and the Cowlitz casino

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor
Published: May 7, 2016, 6:10am

Just in case you were thinking all this Donald Trump crazy talk was something he invented for his presidential bid … think again.

Trump has been shouting bad things for years. It’s just that before he began his run for president, the press wasn’t paying as much attention to him.

More on that later.

Our Trump interest was piqued when it was announced he would visit Clark County today. That trip has now been called off.

The timing — coincidentally — fell right in line with a coffee I had earlier this week with David Barnett, managing partner of the proposed Cowlitz casino.

I was chatting with Barnett about what the future might look like if the Cowlitz casino just outside of La Center becomes a reality. The casino is being built right now, even though its legality is still being challenged in court.

Barnett opened the conversation by handing me copies of two letters the Cowlitz Tribe received from Trump back in 2000 and 2001. And I’ll get back to these letters in a moment.

But if I may, let’s return for a moment to the Trump trash talk. It’s been well-documented, of course. He’s not fond of Mexicans, he has issues with Muslims, women are not at the top of his favorites list, and he could do without the Republican hierarchy.

But those letters Barnett shared with us lead us to yet another group on The Donald’s naughty list: Native Americans. At least those who put up casinos.

Trump and casinos

Back in 2000, Cowlitz tribal leaders began a conversation with Trump about being involved in the financing of their casino.

Think of it. Those huge letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P on the front of the Cowlitz casino. Maybe even his smiling face up in lights, welcoming all of us to the poker tables.

I’m not kidding!

Back then, the Cowlitz were getting close to begin seriously discussing a casino. And Trump smelled money.

So he wrote a letter to the Cowlitz in 2000 wanting in.

“I wanted to express my enthusiasm for the opportunity that you have given my company to discuss the potential to participate in the casino project,” he wrote.

Related story

Mysterious apology to tribe: Trump made nice to the Cowlitz

So far, so good, right? The tribe needed financing, and who wouldn’t listen to a proposal? But then Trump’s letter veered into a strange direction.

“I have been advised that during those discussions, certain concerns may have been voiced concerning prior statements attributed to me regarding Native Americans.

“I want to assure you … that I do now, and always have, supported the sovereignty of Native Americans and their right to pursue all lawful opportunities.”

What the …

That sort of sounds like Trump was making a case that he was misunderstood … once again.

The letter never specified what might have triggered Trump’s “it wasn’t what it sounded like” explanation.

So we hunted around. And sure enough, there it was, in Trump’s 1993 testimony to Congress regarding how bad tribal casinos are. Oh my!

Although Trump denied it, it was pretty obvious why he was opposed to Native American casinos. They competed against his Atlantic City, N.J., casinos.

Instead, he told Congress the following on why he was opposed:

“They’re taking money away from the church.”

“They’re taking money away from old people.”

“You’re going to have the biggest organized crime problem in the history of the country … Al Capone is going to look like a baby.”

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“To sit here and listen as people are saying that there’s no organized crime, that there’s no money-laundering … and that an Indian chief is going to tell ‘Joey Killer’ to please get off this reservation, is almost unbelievable to me.”

Eventually the negotiations with Trump fell apart and the Cowlitz secured financing elsewhere.

• • • •

Regardless of how you feel about a casino just outside of La Center (The Columbian has editorially opposed it), Trump’s views expose at least three things:

• If you get on Trump’s bad side, you’re in for a long, tough grind. He speaks poorly of Capone, but ironically he employs similar intimidation tactics. Trump hasn’t left any dead bodies in his wake, but he’s a master at applying pressure to get his way.

• If there’s a buck in it, Trump can go from hating you to loving you in a heartbeat. This, by definition, is being two-faced.

• When Trump pivots — and he will — to a supposedly kinder, gentler candidate, he will tell you he simply had to act in that bad way to get voters’ attention. As president he’ll go back to who he really is. But who is he really? He wasn’t running for office back in ’93 when he was speaking to Congress about Native American casinos.

Trump is Trump. And what you see is what you get.

Columbian Editor