Gubernatorial trio again performs its three-part harmony but with a limited repertoire

Each member of the gubernatorial trio — Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer and Tom Horner — can sing his own part perfectly but, it turns out, the three have a limited repertoire.

The trio performed again this morning at a forum, sponsored by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and the University of St. Thomas.

The forum, held at the St. Thomas business school in downtown Minneapolis, lasted 90 minutes. But 10 or 15 minutes would have sufficed because each of the candidates seldom strayed from their basic tracks.

Familiar messages
You know the parts by now:

• Dayton: Fair taxes and investment, especially in education.

• Emmer: Get government off our backs.

• Horner: Get some government off our backs but invest some in education.

Emmer came the closest to making news in responding to a question about how each would act as the state’s CEO.

Instead of having a cabinet of 22 commissioners around him, he would surround himself with six advisers to make the big decisions about what state government should be doing and how well it is performing.

He didn’t specify whether that means he’s willing to close down, or consolidate, all those agencies currently headed by commissioners. And he wasn’t available for direct questions after the forum was over.

Perhaps the other most informative aspect of the forum came when the moderator, Christopher Puto, dean of the business school, asked what “brand” candidates would use to describe Minnesota.

Horner’s: “Minnesota’s a knowledge state.”

Emmer’s: “Minnesota, open for business.”

Dayton’s (which wasn’t so succinct, which is true to his style): “House divided against itself cannot stand.”

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

This was Dayton’s way of saying that Minnesotans have too long complained about being a high-tax, big-government state. The facts, he said, don’t support that stereotype. In fact, Dayton said, Minnesota ranks 21st in overall taxation and 31st in number of government employees per capita.

Because there was no give-and-take with audience members, made up of business people and a smattering of lawyers and other white-collar types, it was hard to tell who made the best impression.

As always, Emmer seemed to feel the most comfortable with the crowd. He arrived for the 8:30 a.m. forum more than 40 minutes early and stood around, comfortably schmoozing with people as they drank coffee and munched on sweet rolls.

Yet, some of his answers to questions may have seemed overly simplistic to this presumably conservative crowd.

For example, Horner had talked about some of the things good government should invest in to make the state competitive globally. He included high-speed broadband near the top of that list.

“Ultra-speed broadband?” Emmer said with a degree of contempt. “How does that work? … Minnesota is headed in the same direction as California.”

Horner appeared to get the most nods of agreement from the crowd as he repeatedly talked about the budget plan he outlined Monday and took digs at both Dayton’s plans to tax the richest and Emmer’s unclear (to date) plan to cut Minnesota’s way out of its budget problems.

“I don’t need to explain why I’m in the race,” Horner said with a smile. “They [Dayton and Emmer] demonstrate it for me.”

High comfort levels
Horner approaches these forums with a comfort level that seems born of all his years of making presentations to, and for, clients he’s represented in his public relations business. He’s sure of himself, affable and seemingly reasonable.

Tom Horner
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tom Horner

Emmer also is sure of himself and affable, but also repetitive to the extreme.

No matter the question, Emmer has pretty much the same answer.

“We have so much government it’s sucking the air out of the private economy,” he says, in various ways on every issue from energy to education. He promises “a 21st Century government, a new Minnesota Miracle based on reducing taxes and reforms on overly burdensome regulation.”

Dayton also is sure of himself. He’s a font of statistics and knowledge about government, but he’s also repetitive and sometimes hard to follow.

His basic message to the business crowd: Minnesota prospered when it invested in education across the board.

Dayton did set up one moment of precious humor in the mostly predictable forum. He offered to “defer my time” on a question about where to cut government if Emmer would offer specifics.

Emmer happily took the time but then went off on one of his spiels about too much government.

Dayton, shaking his head, said he’d deferred his time for specifics.

Emmer said he was trying to answer but that Dayton was interrupting.

Specifics? With rare exceptions, they were hard to come by.

Tom Emmer
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Tom Emmer

An exception was when the moderator asked about nuclear power: Should Minnesota lift its moratorium on building nuke plants?

Horner: “Lift.”

Dayton: “I oppose lifting.”

Only Emmer ducked.

“Here’s the difference between us,” he said. “I’m just a guy from Delano. … Trust in the people. Trust in business.”

The trio will continue to perform into November.

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 (10)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 08/24/2010 - 01:11 pm.

    Shame to see Dayton give the wrong answer on the nuclear plants. Well, at least he gave an answer.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/24/2010 - 01:38 pm.

    I heard part of what I assume was a rebroadcast of this debate over the noon hour (MPR). I suspect Dayton’s specific answers will continue to play well with voters. While Horner gets credit for delivering his plan this week, he needs to be able to list some of the specifics when asked about them in debates. “Check my website” is not an answer that inspires confidence. He needs to say “Here are the 2 key points; further details are available online.” Emmer likes his anecdotes, but comes across as out of his league. How do you expect to attract votes when you can’t explain what you want to do in the job? Starting and ending with “I’m going to shrink government” isn’t going to cut it.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/24/2010 - 02:10 pm.

    Although Mr. Emmer thinks he has the crowd at today’s event sown up, I suspect there were many among the folk there who have, themselves, come to realize that the climate for their particular type of high-tech, highly-creative, highly-educated employee, high profit businesses was MUCH better before King Timmy’s two terms.

    When it comes to saving massive $$$’s by “cutting the waste out of government” and maintaining the quality of our environment and the quality of life for our citizens by “getting regulations out of the way of business,” it’s clear that with the general public, and even with substantial numbers of today’s crowd, the old aphorism applies: “that dog won’t hunt.”

    Mr. Emmer’s dog of a campaign is old and tired and far more interested in lying on a rug by the hearth, warming it’s arthritic bones by the fire, than leaving it’s old, well-worn comfortable ideological spot to go chasing after votes, especially since the woods, statewide, have been largely cleared of the kinds of votes the Emmer campaign’s hunting dog would be chasing around trying to find.

    I suspect that the closer we get to the election the clearer it will become that the voters of the state are not even remotely interested in electing a new King named Tommy whose policies amount to nothing more than those of King Timmy multiplied by two.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/24/2010 - 03:15 pm.

    Sadly, the dialogue that many of us had hoped for in the campaign may already be over. And it isn’t even September.

    Kind of hard to talk to someone whose only plan is to cut, but who won’t explain what will be cut. With no new revenues he is clearly dead in the water.

    The other guy’s argument seems to be: I’m not a DFLer and I’m no longer GOP, so vote for me. Not good enough. The clothing tax song and dance is called regressive even by Republicans. (Doncha love it.)

    So I guess that leaves Dayton, who according to the other two is going to lose jobs and businesses if he carries through on his tax the rich strategy. We’ve tried the cut, cut, cut and kick the can down the road strategy with TPaw for eight years. How has that worked out? It is not clear that the lowest taxes possible are going to attract the kind of businesses we want – high tech and biotech. (If you don’t buy this argument, look at this Med City News post and come back and explain where it is wrong: )

    The Toms should fear November.

  5. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 08/24/2010 - 09:10 pm.

    Emmer’s broadband comments should give all of rural Minnesotans pause. There are parts of greater MN with excellent broadband services, generally provided by cooperatives that have benefitted from federal investment. Other parts of the countryside have very poor service with little hope of market forces solving their broadband deficiencies. Slow DSL and dial-up does not make for a competitive state economy.

    Congratulations to Senator Klobuchar for her very excellent broadband meeting at the Carlson School today.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/24/2010 - 10:26 pm.

    Horner is making inroads with both parties. He will capture the more conservative Rybak voter as well as the more moderate GOP voter. It’s great the voting public will have such clear choices come November.

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/25/2010 - 07:21 am.

    Moderate GOP voter?

    I thought that these were called RINOs and that they had all been driven from the GOP. Anyone who dares to compromise with the evil DFL is anathema to the true believers. Witness the behavior of the GOP toward those GOP members in the legislature who dared to compromise.

    Prediction: Dayton 50% Emmer 35% Horner 15%

  8. Submitted by Sherry Berg on 08/25/2010 - 10:22 am.

    i applaud dayton’s answer on nuclear plants. he seems to know where he stands on any issue. like he has nothing to hide. i like that.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/25/2010 - 10:45 am.

    On nuclear power–
    In the long run, I’d disagree with Dayton.
    France gets about 85% of its power from nuclear plants and has had no safety issues (I believe that they manage waste disposal on site). Compare that with the lives lost yearly from coal; both from mining deaths and pollution.
    We’re scared by the very large but very improbably dangers, so we overlook the real incremental ones. That’s why hundreds of deaths in airplane crashes get more attention than tens of thousands in automobile crashes.
    However, there’s a 10-20 year lead time required to construct a nuclear power plant and get it approved and on line, so that won’t solve our immediate problems.
    The only practical solution is a combination of energy conservation and wind and solar power, all of which are available immediately.

  10. Submitted by David Greene on 08/25/2010 - 05:23 pm.

    Extending the sales tax top clothing actually makes it more progressive. Just ask former Speaker Dee Long, who has studied this extensively. It seems the rich like their fancy dressings. We absolutely should extend the sales tax to clothing and services. All the rest of Horner’s ideas are more of the same, but that one should go forward.

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