The leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 5, is made up of hard-nosed realists.
So how was it that those leaders opted to throw their support to DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton?
After all, on paper, he would seem to be the most flawed of the current crop of candidates. As a U.S. senator, he gave himself an ‘F’ grade and left office after one term, in which he became known as the man who closed his D.C. office in the face of what he — and he alone — saw as a terrorist threat.
As a politician, he still is preaching the message of raising taxes at a time when most pols are very reluctant to make such a pledge. As a person, he is good-hearted but often seems uncomfortable in one-on-one situations.
“We discussed the highlights and lowlights of all of the candidates,” said Eliot Seide, Local 5’s director, at a news conference today. “There are no perfect candidates.”
Union says Dayton is ‘electable’
“Electable,” said Seide, who then went on to explain that the former senator has “Minnesota values” and that he supports “working women and men.”
Again understand: This decision was reached after 900 union delegates last weekend listened to all of the DFL candidates. This decision was made after the union’s executive committee spent 3½ hours talking about which candidate could win.
When the decision was made, Seide called Dayton via cell phone. During their conversation, Dayton, who was campaigning in greater Minnesota, lost connection three times with Seide.
That led to a pledge from Dayton: When he becomes governor, Dayton said laughing, any cell phone company that wants to do business in the state “will have to offer coverage throughout the state as a condition of operating in Minnesota.” People in greater Minnesota, he added, have a right to the same sort of cell coverage as people in the metro areas.
It’s a little thing, but that comment does show a Dayton strength that is often overlooked by so many of us. Despite his personal wealth, he has an empathy for everyday Minnesotans on life’s little things.
Also, despite the fact that he often has been seen as bumbling, he’s an experienced campaigner. He knows what he’ll be facing in the coming months.
Asked about how he’ll explain closing his office in October 2004 because of what he believed were terrorist threats, Dayton didn’t flinch.
“I didn’t explain myself well,” he said. “We didn’t close our offices — we moved them.”
But why? No other senators did.
“A confidential report showed a strong likelihood of attack,” said Dayton, who went on to note that he had seen the plumes of smoke coming from the Pentagon on that awful Sept. 11 when terrorists did attack.
“I didn’t want to put my staff, the sons and daughters of Minnesotans, at risk,” he said. ” … It was a stand-alone decision that was not popular.”
But, Dayton notes, his vote against the resolution to go to war against Iraq wasn’t popular, either.
“I’ll always do what I believe is right,” he said.
In a 2006 article, Time magazine cited the office closing as one of the reasons it rated Dayton as one of the country’s five worst senators.
“Fox would rate me low,” said Dayton. “Rush Limbaugh would rate me low.”
But, in truth, he rated himself low, giving himself an “F” for his first and only Senate term that ended with him stepping aside and opening the door for Amy Klobuchar.
‘F’ grades for everyone
“What’s seldom pointed out,” though, he said, “is that I gave the whole Senate an ‘F.’ I’m a hard grader.”
As a matter of fact, he said he’d give the current Senate an ‘F’ for putting political bickering ahead of getting meaningful health care passed. And he’d also give the man he wants to replace, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an “F.”
Dayton says he is more suited to be governor than he is a senator.
“I want to lead,” he said. “The executive branch is where you can lead.”
It is when Dayton starts talking about the economic state of Minnesota that he goes on the offensive in compelling ways. In forums across Minnesota, he is the candidate who has garnered the big cheers with his promise to “tax the rich.”
The state budget crisis is created by a revenue problem, not a spending problem, he insists wherever he goes.
He was at it again today at a news conference with his AFSCME supporters in the background. He would raise the taxes, in a progressive manner, on the top 10 percent — the most well-off Minnesotans — starting with those making $150,000 a year. The more you make over that amount, the more in state income taxes you’d pay.
He called Tim Pawlenty “the best tax shelter” the wealthy have ever had. He said that people making a lot can afford to pay more.
“I can. Tim Pawlenty can,” said Dayton.
More than $3.5 billion could be raised under his plan. That, of course, might not be enough to close the deficit, which could be as high as $7 billion in the next biennium.
He knows his message of raising taxes will be easy fodder for his Republican foes.
“They will say I’m raising taxes on everybody,” he said, “but that’s just not true.”
He is, of course, one of only a handful of candidates to pay to get his message out to the public, though he noted that his wealth isn’t what it used to be.
“I’m a Dayton’s heir,” he said, “But that [the Dayton business] no longer exists.”
But this is one Dayton that simply will not go away. He “would like” endorsement of his party, but he’ll run in a primary if he doesn’t get it.
And AFSCME said it will support Dayton whether he gets endorsement or not. That’s unusual. It is, after all, the DFL, with that ‘L’ standing for labor. Traditionally, unions support the candidate who ends up with endorsement.
In fact, the union’s leaders seem to expect that House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher will win party endorsement. But, they note, the Legislature currently has about a 17 percent approval rating with the public.
So they’re going with Dayton. He’s twice won statewide election, AFSCME leaders point out, which is something no other DFL candidate has accomplished. Dayton was elected state auditor in 1991 and was elected to the Senate in 2000.
But this should also be noted: Dayton has been a frequent loser in statewide campaigns. In 1982, he lost a Senate race, and in 1998, he finished fourth in the DFL primary for governor.