Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

When wealthy casino tribes sought to derail a would-be competitor, campaign donations were the currency of the day

Now Eckstein sees that his few hard rolls were actually bullets, and he is without hope. You see, Eckstein has enormous respect for Babbitt's public career as attorney general, governor and member of the Clinton cabinet.

Citing the emotional toll, Eckstein will no longer discuss his confrontation with Babbitt. His remarks are no longer needed in any case; the die is cast.

Both Ickes, who is already gone from his coveted position in the White House, and Babbitt are victims of the political game both men played with relish.

Babbitt's apologists forget too quickly that he always kept his eye on the smarmy realities of an unseemly craft while in Arizona. His word was not his bond, friends who were liabilities were jettisoned, and political expediency was no stranger to his administrations.

When an old colleague engineered a victory at the polls, the campaign manager proceeded to a raucous election-night party where he had too much to drink, left and approached an undercover vice officer. Babbitt ended the man's career with a finger snap.

At a time when the state's universities languished in mediocrity, vacancies on the Board of Regents were not filled by the best and the brightest. Instead, Babbitt appointed real estate developer Don Pitt and construction mogul Herman Chanin, two men whose primary qualification were their unstinting donations to Bruce Babbitt and the Democratic party.

If Babbitt watchers then are not entirely surprised by his current dilemma, they also remind themselves that effective politics comes with a price. Saints do not win elections. And Bruce Babbitt wielded real power on behalf of progressive policies in a state that routinely chooses the likes of Evan Mecham, J.D. Hayworth, Joe Arpaio and Fife Symington.

The demise of Ickes and Babbitt are unlikely endings for public careers begun with the sort of idealism you might wish upon your children.

As young men, both took separate paths to the Deep South to help put an end to segregation. Ickes lost his kidney when white thugs stomped him during a voter-registration drive for blacks in rural Louisiana.

Babbitt returned to Arizona with indelible memories, memories that framed his decision to create the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in a state that resisted the celebration with all of its cracker might.

But that was a long time ago.
There are many who argue that Bruce Babbitt is the most enlightened champion of the environment at the Department of the Interior since Stewart Udall.

The Hudson gaming decision, however, had nothing to do with natural resources. High-stakes gambling was the issue on the table.

In the Midwest, each individual of the Shakopee Indian nation received $396,700 last year from gaming revenue. If the Hudson casino had been allowed, the Interior Department's own analysis showed that income--in a worst-case scenario--would have dropped to $363,900, a not insignificant loss but still a legacy of prosperity.

The Chippewas who sought the new gambling parlor subsist on an income of $6,000 per tribal member.

Bruce Babbitt sided with the wrong tribes for the wrong reasons.

--Lacey

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