State GOP chief quits outside positions

Tony Sutton said he doesn't want anti-gaming post and consulting firm to become a distraction.

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GOP chairman Tony Sutton

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Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton said this weekend that he's resigning from the board of an anti-gambling group and closing up shop on his political consulting business until the end of his term.

"I didn't want those things to become a distraction," he said Saturday.

Sutton had served on the board of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE), a group financed in part by American Indian casino operators, and had business ties with the group.

A few months ago, Sutton's political consulting business joined forces with Public Affairs Co., which is led by GOP operative Steve Knuth. This year, CAGE hired Public Affairs to do public relations.

The intertwined relations prompted some Republican activists to raise questions, especially after some received an e-mail from CAGE that they believed they received because they are on Republican Party lists. CAGE Chairman and longtime GOP operative Jack Meeks denied that allegation.

But the further attention, which comes after months of internal GOP party fights over gambling became public, made Sutton decide he should step back.

"I felt it would just be better if I didn't serve on CAGE or any outside organization for the duration of my term as state chair and just mothball my public affairs company until I'm done being state chair," Sutton said.

"I just felt this was the best thing for all involved."

He said that he didn't believe his relationship with CAGE or his business presented any conflict.

His closure of his public affairs company comes just after he re-started it in January. At that time, he also said he had stepped down as CEO of Baja Sol Restaurant Group, a Mexican chain restaurant co-owned by Republican donor Bill Cooper.

The decisions, Sutton said, allow him to zero in on party work. But they also mean that he needs a source of income.

Although he had been an unpaid chairman during his first term, he said he plans to discuss compensation with the party's executive committee at its May 19 meeting.

"I'll probably ask for it, simply because I am in a different place in my life," Sutton said.

He said leaving the CAGE board does nothing to dampen his outcry against more gambling.

"I'll continue to be a vigorous opponent of expanding gambling or any other source of revenue to grow government in Minnesota," he said.

He said gambling is a difficult issue, "because there is a lot of pressure at the Capitol to raise revenue. That's really it comes down to. Any other excuse is really a phony baloney excuse.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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