Dayton is Exhibit A in event on governor as ‘best job’

Gov. Mark Dayton
Courtesy of the Governor’s OfficeGov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton will never be mistaken for Hubert (“The Happy Warrior” and practitioner of “The Politics of Joy”) Humphrey. But for those who have seen him over his career, it is noticeable that he has seemed just downright happier during his two years at governor than he has for ages, most especially during his one unhappy and unsuccessful term as U.S. senator.

Could it be that the job agrees with him? He told me yesterday that it’s “easily the best job I’ve ever had.” That made him Exhibit A for political scientist Alan Rosenthal at a gathering yesterday at the Minnesota History Center to talk about his book about gubernatorial happiness in general, titled “The Best Job in Politics.”

Dayton and former Gov. Al Quie (who actually had a pretty rough term back in 1979-82 and didn’t seek a second one) spoke at the event.

Better than Senate

For his book, Rosenthal interviewed every single man or woman who held a governorship between 1980 and 2010. In his remarks, he said that 12 former governors are currently serving in the U.S. Senate, and 11 of them say that governor was the better of the two jobs. (The exception was Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, but Rosenthal wisecracked that he’s pretty sure that’s because Washington has better restaurants.)

Tom Carper of Delaware, who is completing his second Senate term and previously served two terms as governor, told Rosenthal that “My worst day as governor was better than my best day as a United States senator.”

Alan Rosenthal
Alan Rosenthal

Why? Well mostly because being the sole chief of the executive branch of a state provides a lot more ability to turn your policy ideas into action than being one of 100 members of one house of the 535 member legislative branch of the U.S.A.

Dayton was brief and mostly lighthearted in his remarks at the History Center event. He joked that this is not necessarily the best week to ask him if governoring is the best job (apparently, the job is more fun when the Legislature is out of session and would be even more fun if his party controlled the Legislature). On that last point, Dayton cracked “in the playground of government, you don’t get to pick your playmates.”

‘I know them both well’

Referring to Amy Klobuchar, who won his Senate seat in 2006, Dayton said, “she’s a great improvement over her predecessor. I know them both well, so I speak from experience.”

Best Job in PolitcsAs he headed back to the Capitol from the event I had a moment to ask Dayton to explain as concretely as he could why one job was so much better than the other. A governor can be much more “proactive” about injecting his policy preferences at least into the discussion and, if you can convince the public and the Legislature, into law. In the Senate, Dayton said, the two keys to getting anything done are building your seniority and being in the majority party. He started his term as literally #100 on the seniority list and a member of the minority caucus. “To not feel like you are making a difference in people’s lives was very frustrating.”

Former Gov. Quie did not say that his gubernatorial term was the happiest of his career, and it seems obvious why not. He inherited a tanking economy and an ongoing budget crisis that presented him with a series of unpopular choices. Before that, he had a long and productive career in the U.S. House, where he built up his seniority and became a major voice in his favorite issue area of education.

Party swung right; he didn’t

A lifelong Republican, Quie was considered a solid conservative in his day, but as the party swung hard right in recent years and Quie didn’t always swing with it, he became a mild-mannered and always civil renegade. In 2010, he broke ranks and endorsed Independent Party nominee Tom Horner for governor and was one of three retired Republican statewide office-holders to be officially banished from the party.

I mentioned that sad chapter because Quie seemed to go out of his way yesterday to reinforce his apostate credentials by saying, apropos of nothing to do with the topic of the day, that education is important, that it costs money to make it better, that “it’s worth spending more money, and it’s worth raising taxes to do it.”

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/03/2012 - 10:36 am.

    Regarding Al Quie

    His situation is simple: When you’re a republican and you endorse a candidate from another party, you no longer get to call yourself a republican. And I’m sure Al Quie is just fine with that.

    Ask Joe Lieberman if the democrats are any different.

    • Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 05/03/2012 - 02:06 pm.


      It has to do more with temperament. Quie was kind and thoughtful, as well as focused on common good. The current GOP party is not, it is full of nasty, venal people to whom truth and ethics are fungible items. You need to look no further than the current leadership. Zeller is a sneaky, untrustworthy leader, so he is popular. Senjem is decent and is constantly undercut by his unprincipled cohorts. A true ship of fools.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/03/2012 - 03:33 pm.


      was more a case of voting than of endorsements.
      When you vote more and more with Republicans it’s hard to convince the Democratic party that they should support you.
      Since Quist has not been in office for many years his voting record is less of a factor.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 05/03/2012 - 01:32 pm.

    Trust me Dennis..

    …Quie’s seen the current Republican party. It’s why he takes every opportunity he can to distance himself from it, as have so many others.

  3. Submitted by Patrick Wells on 05/03/2012 - 11:46 pm.

    Mark Dayton is doing a good job, but more needs to done

    First, I disagree with Mark Dayton on the need for a stadium. I believe that we need light rail and more infrastructure improvements. I really believe that the Metrodome would be just fine for both the Twins and the Vikings. The Twins fans will get tired of outside baseball in a few years and want a dome. I think that all of the sports high stakes money requests are a distraction from the attention needed to infrastructure.

    Second, even though I disagree with Mark Dayton on the stadium, I really like the job he is doing as governor. He gives the impression of someone who is really trying to do the governor job well in the context of living up to the tradition of good Minnesota governors. On occasion, Arnie Carlson has also offered support to Governor Dayton. Arnie, in my book, gets a gold star for the supporting Governor Dayton on occasion.

    Third, I also have a recommendation. As a armchair political scientist (U of M political science degree in 1965) and as a Minnesota citizen, I believe that both Mark Dayton and the legislature need to address the huge issue of dysfunctionality in Minnesota State government.

    Our recent government shutdown has been very expensive and, as recorded in the Strib this week, the claims for loss by contractors are large and continue to be filed. This major dysfunction of state government should be addressed by both Mark Dayton and by the legislature.

    My representative, Steve Simon (St. Louis Park), and Mark Dayton both supported the concept of mandatory binding arbitration where a budget deadlock occurs and a government shut down is threatened. I think that this mandatory arbitration proposal should be put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment to cure the current disfunctions in the state governmental budget process. Fixing a broken governmental process is more important than building another stadium..

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/04/2012 - 08:29 am.

      That would never do!

      An amendment requiring binding arbitration to head off the threat of a government shutdown would neither disenfranchise a portion of the population nor preclude them from exercising their basic human rights. Therefore it clearly fails to meet the current criteria in place for the proposing of a new constitutional amendment.

      • Submitted by Patrick Wells on 05/04/2012 - 09:17 am.

        Point of Information

        What are the criteria for proposing a constitutional amendment?

        Where may the criteria be found?

        Maybe we could achieve the same result by just passing a law requring binding arbitration.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/04/2012 - 11:18 am.

          Excuse me a moment while I pull my tongue out of my cheek . . .

          And I guess for the answer to your questions, you’d have to go to the party currently in charge of both houses of our state legislature. Good luck getting a logical, supportable answer.

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