Mark Dayton, in attack mode, shows why he’ll be a formidable DFL primary opponent

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton  is showing just why he will be a formidable primary opponent for whichever DFLer comes out of next week’s convention with the party’s endorsement.

Dayton, who is bypassing the entire endorsement process, held a news conference Tuesday morning to talk about the need for Minnesota to re-apply for federal Race to the Top education funding. But mostly what he did was tear into Gov. Tim Pawlenty with a gusto seldom shown by DFLers in recent years.  Most of the DFL candidates have been less confrontational in dealing with Pawlenty, who they see as a Teflon-coated pol.  

While he was blasting Pawlenty,  Dayton surely picked up friendships among members of Education Minnesota, which has been Pawlenty’s punching bag of choice. Even some DFLers have been lobbing a few shots at the teachers union this year.

The union, it should be noted, has not yet endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, a fact that certainly hasn’t escaped Dayton’s notice.

Dayton said the governor’s threats not to resubmit Minnesota’s Race to the Top bid unless the Legislature passes bills that he wants – ones that Education Minnesota opposes – show that Pawlenty “is busy running for president instead of worrying about the education of our children.”

A few hours after Dayton laid the whole Race to the Fund failure at Pawlenty’s feet, DFL legislative leaders and the governor met to discuss what needs to be done to get back into the competition for the federal cash. The tone of that meeting was dramatically different from Dayton’s tone. 

 “This governor doesn’t care,” Dayton said. “He’s just running for president. … To pin this [the failure of the first Race to the Top application] on teachers is irresponsible. He goes around preaching how people should be accountable. Everybody’s supposed to be accountable except himself.”

Step back a moment.

Two Mark Daytons?

Sometimes it seems there are two Mark Daytons. There is the Dayton who stumbles as a public speaker. But then, there’s the Dayton who is passionately focused. Throughout this campaign so far, the focused Dayton has been on display. You may not like his message, but it’s sure not hard to understand.

The Tuesday morning briefing was a classic example of the on-point candidate.

He came to praise teachers and bury Pawlenty, and he did both.

Minnesota failed in its first submission for Race to the Top Funding, he said, because “the New York consultants”who wrote the first application for the Department of Education, didn’t emphasize the right things about Minnesota education.

Much, for example, has been made of the state losing 11 points on the federal application because it doesn’t have an alternative licensing procedure to bring new teachers into the system. In fact, Dayton said, Minnesota does have alternative licensing processes that do allow for people with non-traditional education backgrounds to end up in the classroom. St. Paul, he noted, has 40 people from the much-praised Teach for America program in its classrooms.

“That we need a new law is the governor’s fictional claim,” Dayton said.

Instead of demanding changes in law, Pawlenty should be working with all education stakeholders, including Education Minnesota, he said.

In Pawlenty’s nearly eight years in office, Dayton said, funding to K-12 education has fallen “in real dollars” by $1,400 per pupil.

“I’ve been all over the state,” said Dayton, “and they’re laying off teachers everywhere because of drastic funding cuts. … I recognize that you teach through teachers. They have a stake in this.”

He kept ripping on the gov. Minnesota, he said, has the 11th-highest per-capital income in the country but, during the Pawlenty years, teachers’ salaries have fallen below the national average.

And he kept pounding on the theme that Minnesota must re-apply for Race to the Top funding to help make up for education funding lost in the Pawlenty years.

“Instead of courting Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, the governor needs to return home and get down to the hard work that will place Minnesota’s schools back on the right track.”

While Dayton was throwing big, roundhouse punches, other candidates were doing more understated things.

Kelliher and Seifert pick up high-profile support

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher,  for example, landed the prestigious support of former Vice President Walter Mondale, who will be co-chair of her campaign. She also announced endorsements from two more House colleagues – Erin Murphy of St. Paul and Maria Ruud of Minnetonka. 

Sen. John Marty,  meanwhile, proudly was pointing out that the Duluth City Council had passed a resolution, supporting his universal health care plan.

On the Republican side of the divide, Rep. Marty Seifert  also received a substantial endorsement, picking up the support of former Gov. Al Quie. It’s hard to know, though, just how important that will be to the super-conservative elements of the party that both Seifert and Rep. Tom Emmer  are trying to attract in their bid for endorsement.

But it was Dayton who stood out Tuesday, as he lavished praise on teachers and, indirectly, their union. He promised that in a Dayton administration, K-12 funding would increase each year.

How would he pay for it?

“Tax the rich,” he said.

 That, of course, has been his virtual slogan – and big applause line — since he entered the race. That may not be so popular a line in November, but right now, Dayton’s aiming everything he’s got at that smaller segment of the population that will vote in the August primary.

Dayton said he will stop by the DFL convention in Duluth next week “to shake hands and see old friends,” but he will play no official role.

He can’t throw the lavish party that he often throws on the Saturday night of state conventions.  Those parties, where liquor, food and entertainment all are free, delight DFL delegates.

But Dayton said he checked with Minnesota Campaign Finance officials, who said he would be in violation of state law if he threw the bash this year while an active candidate.

“It would be like buying votes,” he said. “I’m sure, if they had a choice, a lot of DFLers would prefer that I’d throw the party instead of being a candidate.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/14/2010 - 12:00 pm.

    “Tax the rich,” praise the “teachers union,” the tired clichés of typical DFL candidate. Not one new idea.

    Hey Doug, why not ask him how large he wants to increase the size of the State Budget? Why not ask what “cuts” he will be proposing?

  2. Submitted by Hilda Bull on 04/14/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    Mark Dayton seems to be the only candidate standing up for teachers, children and schools. He is correct in calling out the Governor for his complete lack of vision when it comes to education in Minnesota. Pawlenty laying blame on Education Minnesota indeed shows that he cares more about his presidential aspirations than he does about public education. Dayton is also correct in saying that after years of Pawlenty budget cuts to education, federal money for education is desperately needed. I thank Mark Dayton for standing up for the teachers, children and schools in this state, and so should you. Your children will thank you later.

  3. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/14/2010 - 12:49 pm.

    There goes Dayton again, trying to throw his money around and buy an election. He’s not the best candidate. He can give a fiery speech when he wants to, but that’s far from normal. Dayton is not going to win the Primary, and if he does, he won’t win in November. He’s got so much baggage that there’s no way he could get elected. Why doesn’t he just go retire? We need a governor who can win, one who’s smart enough to get us out of the mess we’re in, and one who’s nice. That would be Paul Thissen or R. T. Rybak. Both reNEW MN candidates. Why should Dayton think he can just barge in without the endorsement and take over everything? He quit the Senate. He was an ineffective senator. He whined and cried that he couldn’t get anything done. He’s so spoiled! Not to bright, either, thowing away his biggest supporter.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/14/2010 - 01:36 pm.

    First, I have to say that I found Grow’s choice of words disturbing…”Mark Dayton, in attack mode..”

    I thought the Democrat party was all about civility this time around.

    Secondly, I wonder what a EdMN shill is bringing down these days? Given the fact that nearly everyone in the state is wise to their game I gotta believe Dayton is expecting some serious ching to embaress himself like this.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 04/14/2010 - 02:03 pm.

    I would think that it would be in the DFL’s best interests to nominate the most centrist candidate they can. I would also use the term “conservative DFL candidate” but that would be somewhat of an oxymoron with regards to the DFL party.

    Anything but a centrist will surely push many of the conservative middle voters to the Independent candidate Tom Horner. With a far right conservative on the GOP ticket, perhaps somewhere near the middle is the sweet spot.

    If the DFL chooses a left leaning candidate, Mr Horner will have a huge opportunity to win over the independent voters in the state. With sensible and honest policies and perhaps a good showing in the debates, I would think that Mr. Horner could win over enough voters to win.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/14/2010 - 02:18 pm.

    “Tax the rich,” praise the “teachers union,” the tired clichés of typical DFL candidate.

    Yup… let’s compare the economic and educational performance of Minnesota back in the days of “tax the rich” and “praise the teacher’s union,” to where we are now after four years of Jesse “the Ignoramus, my teachers were mean to me” Ventura and eight years of “no new taxes, kill the poor” under King Timmy.

    We know what really works. Perhaps former Senator Dayton can help us remember those facts and lead us back to being the pinnacle of corporate and educational innovation, high prosperity and high educational outcomes we were before we foolishly started listening to those who wanted to punish some teacher they didn’t like when they were in school, wanted us to make it easier for people to get rich by ripping the rest of us off, and wanted us protect the rich from taxes in case we ever got rich ourselves (which they were and are doing everything in their power to make sure doesn’t happen).

  7. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 04/14/2010 - 02:31 pm.

    Dayton doesn’t need the teachers’ union money. His commitment to education derives from his own experience as a teacher in a tough New York district where he learned how hard a teacher’s job can be. He’s been fighting for education ever since.

    I’m delighted that he threw the accusations back in Pawlenty’s face. Why hasn’t the story of the consultant-written application been probed by our major papers? This is SO state government. When there’s real work to do they spend taxpayer money on hiring a supposedly objective consultant.

    Why didn’t Seagren’s staff write the application? Did they feed their own prejudices to the consultants? I’ve seen this too often – consultants invariably give you what you want to hear (that’s how they build a resume to get more contracts)and the agency hiring them can avoid responsibility.

    You go, Mark.

  8. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 04/14/2010 - 02:57 pm.

    I think I heard yesterday on one of the news reports on the radio (WCCO – Kessler? or MPR?) that part of the problem with the application was that it included 11 more pages than allowed and possibly that it was also incomplete in another area. I also wonder where are major newspapers and commentators are when information like this is popping up. If the Strib would go back to letting a single reporter do a story, instead of using two reporters on every story (mentor/mentee???), then maybe they could free someone up to look into important issues like this.

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/14/2010 - 03:25 pm.


    Did Mark Dayton go to “private school?”

    It is good to see Mark Dayton in “attack mode.” He ran like a scared puppy on 9/11.

  10. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/14/2010 - 06:14 pm.

    Today’s Pioneer Press features a front-page story that shows the results of Pawlenty’s failure to support public education: St. Paul’s superintendent of schools, faced with a huge shortfall created by the reductions in state funding, has had to recommend closing one high school and discontinuing middle schools sports and grade school music programs. Are these of less value than the Anti-Tax Pledge??

    FAILURE TO TAX THE RICH: Under Pawlenty, the state has lost $1 billion per year in revenue that is desperately needed by our schools, cities and counties, and infrastructure.

    Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy gave us half of his annual budget deficit and his illegal war against Iraq the other half. Ergo, the disappearance of the billions of dollars left on hand by Clinton and the creation of the billions of dollars in debt we now owe mostly to China.

    Government works for us only if it collects enough in taxes to pay for what needs to get done. Pretending that we as a state or a country can get by without the income necessary to do government right is just that, pretense. A phony sop to those who erroneously think taxation is “theft.”

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/14/2010 - 07:14 pm.

    Dayton is the only one who is willing to be honest about education. The rest of the establishment, along with many commenters on this board, seem to think that creating more failed charter schools and putting less qualified teachers in classrooms somehow will HELP education. Fat chance. The notion that somehow teachers are to blame for the poor performance of some of their students reeks of romanticism of teaching that I frankly would not have associated with conservatives. Never underestimate the power of political opportunism.

  12. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/14/2010 - 07:28 pm.

    Seems like Mr. Dayton intends to use the strategy that was so effective for President Obama, running against the person leaving office. Might work again although I’m not sure that that T-Paw is hated as much as Shrub.

  13. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/14/2010 - 10:00 pm.

    Dayton said that he was not the best candidate to lead the DFL party to victory in 2006. Why on earth would he think he is now? He’s got more baggage than a pair of twin Redcaps. The Repubs are just waiting in glee for him to win the primary. We need someone else. Anyone but Dayton. Do you think moderate voters are going to forget Dayton’s fiasco in Washington? Are the rightwingers and moderates going to forget that he just admitted to personal health issues? And quit saying he’s formidable. He’s not formidable. He’s a wuss. Also, the picture that is displayed with this article is not recent. It’s from a year ago from the reNEW MN kickoff. He looks a lot more tired and worn out since that picture was taken. No more Dayton. No more Dayton. For the good of Minnesota, no more Dayton.

  14. Submitted by karl karlson on 04/14/2010 - 10:32 pm.

    Its good to see Dayton in the race. Minnesota needs someone who will hold Pawlenty accountable for the mess he is trying to leave behind.

  15. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/15/2010 - 06:42 am.

    Good grief. Has everyone forgotten what a horrible senator Dayton was? Time Magazine rated him one of the five worst senators. He was called ineffective. He gave himself an F, for crying out loud. How soon we forget!

  16. Submitted by Jess Mines on 04/16/2010 - 10:33 am.

    I find the attacks on Mark Dayton despicable.
    It sounds more like some people have an Ax to grind.
    I don’t know who I am supporting yet, I think the DFL has great candidates, but they all have some kind of baggage.
    I am not going to stoop to name calling or listing them here.

    So I will wait and see who comes out of the Primary

  17. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/16/2010 - 10:41 am.

    All anyone has to do is read media reports of Dayton’s senate years. Add to that the fact that he won’t even seek the endorsement let alone abide by it and you have someone who only gives lip service to being DFL. All candidates who call themselves DFL ought to at least try for the endorsement. I find it dispicable that someone who is rich can just do what they want no matter what other DFLers think.

  18. Submitted by Colleen Morse on 04/16/2010 - 12:43 pm.

    Besides, if he can’t take this crap from me, how on earth will he take it from the Repubs in November???

  19. Submitted by eric zaetsch on 04/16/2010 - 04:33 pm.

    The comment thread is a good one, some liking Dayton some not feeling that way.

    However, one comment – the we have to win mentality, witnessed by saying take a candidate that’s GOP lite. Then Rybak and Thissen were mentioned. Thissen, he is not GOP lite.

    Rybak is Rybak.

    Back to Truman, with regard to Dayton.

    Truman said, and I cannot say it’s an exact quote, but if you have a race with a real Republican running and a phony one, the voters will see the one as real and the oter as not and elect the real one.

    If a Democrat is to win, he or she will have to carry things as a read Democrat, not as a phony Republican.

    Leave that for the Republicans to debate real vs RINO.

    We don’t need any DINO.

    End of rant.

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