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Mark Dayton gains Minneapolis police endorsement — and a new controversy

For the first time since Rudy Perpich was Minnesota’s governor, the Minneapolis Police Officers Association has endorsed a DFL gubernatorial candidate.

For the first time since Rudy Perpich was Minnesota’s governor in the ’80s, the Minneapolis Police Officers Association has endorsed a DFL gubernatorial candidate.

At a news conference this morning, Lt. John Delmonico, president of the state’s largest police union, cited its long relationship with Mark Dayton going back to the days when Dayton was state auditor.

He also mention Rep. Tom Emmer’s opposition to Local Government Aid and Dayton’s support of pensions for public employees among the reasons that the union’s elected executive board chose to throw the support of the 800-member union to Dayton.

Before the official news conference began, Delmonico also said cops find Dayton appealing “because he’s a ‘gun guy.’ … That’s unusual among DFLers.”

On a few occasions, Dayton has mentioned that he owns guns and is a supporter of Second Amendment rights.

Republicans have tried to counter this claim by saying that the National Rifle Association found Dayton wanting when he was a U.S. senator. The low rating came, Dayton says, because he voted against a bill that would have legalized what is known as “cop killer” bullets, a Teflon-coated, armor-piercing ammunition. The NRA opposed Dayton on this issue.

Delmonico said the union, which twice supported Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was won over by Dayton “because he’s always been accessible.”

For decades, Republicans have tended to own law-and-order issues.

But with current economic hard times, the issues of law and order and budget squeezes are clashing. Previously, Dayton received the endorsement of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. (The St. Paul police union has not yet announced an endorsement.)

Delmonico said that there currently are 10 Minneapolis officers laid off because of cuts in LGA funding. Additionally, disputes over pensions for public employees have become an issue in this campaign.

 Emmer has suggested that the day of pensions for public employees are over; that public employees should be moved to 401(k)-type programs, like many in the private sector have.

Again this morning, Dayton supported the pensions paid to public employees.

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Bill Kelley
Mark Dayton

“Those are earned dollars,” he said, noting that the pension have been negotiated over the decades.

He did say that given how “the downturn has decimated those (pension) funds,” adjustments might need to be made in the future in the amount employees must contribute to the plans. Delmonico nodded in agreement.

This morning’s news conference took a sharp turn, however, when Luke Hellier, who runs a conservative website Minnesota Democrats Exposed, started asking Dayton about his divorce records a decade ago from Janice Haarstick, his second wife. Earlier, he and his first wife, Alida Rockefeller Messinger, had divorced.

On his website and in repeated questions to Dayton this morning, Hellier claimed that two statements from Dayton’s former wife have been removed from the public record and should be made available to the public.

When Hellier brought up the subject this morning, Dayton looked at him and shook his head.

“You know, when Rudy did this in 1990, Minnesotans revulsed,” Dayton said to Helliher.

(The reference was to Gov. Rudy Perpich urging the media to look at Grunseth’s divorce records in the 1990 campaign. Ultimately, Grunseth was shown to have bigger social issues than a messy divorce and, at the last minute, withdrew from the race. He was replaced by Arne Carlson, who went on to defeat Perpich. Many believed that Perpich came across looking both sleazy and desperate in waving Grunseth’s divorce papers and that the action may have cost him the election.)

Dayton said he believes that Minnesotans will have “the decency and good judgment” to be offended by negative ads (there’s a new anti-Dayton ad now airing) and personal issues, such as old divorces.

“The voters will draw the line,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, with a degree of resignation, “Everything is fair game. I’ll just put my faith and trust in the people of Minnesota.”

When the news conference ended, Dayton headed out of the Capitol with Hellier in pursuit asking Dayton to open his records.

Later, Hellier, who once was a staff member for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and took over Democrats Exposed from Michael Brodkorb, who now is the deputy chairman of the Republican Party, attempted to justify bringing up the divorce.

“I’m not the morality czar,” Hellier said. “It’s not personal. … But if the Star Tribune is going to spend so much time going into Emmer’s background, it’s only fair they do the same to Dayton.”

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