Once again, the state Republican Party today invited reporters to its headquarters. Once again, party leaders held up documents they claim show Mark Dayton acts differently from the way he talks.
This time, party Chairman Tony Sutton and Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb were claiming that the former senator needs “to answer questions” about a legal settlement he reached with a former Senate staffer, Brad Hanson. That employment case, which began in 2002 when Dayton fired Hanson, went as high as he U.S. Supreme Court before a settlement was reached in February 2009, a month after Dayton filed papers to run for governor.
News that a settlement was reached never was reported, and both Dayton and Hanson agreed to confidentiality as part of the settlement agreement.
“I guess Dayton didn’t put out a press release on that,” Sutton scoffed.
Lawsuit never looked good for Dayton
Indeed, what was known publicly of this case never looked good for Dayton. Hanson claimed he was fired after he went to the senator saying he was having heart problems and needed to undergo surgery. Dayton, Hanson claimed in a suit filed under the Family Leave Act, responded by telling him, “You’re done.”
The battle began, with the senator claiming he had immunity from the suit.
On the surface, not a pretty situation, but only Dayton and Hanson know all the details.
But why is the Republican Party coming forward with this information just three weeks before the election?
Is it their continuing effort to undermine Dayton’s character? An act of desperation? An effort to push Dayton’s softest support toward Indpendence Party candidate Tom Horner? A tit-for-tat response to a Saturday Star Tribune report about a malpractice lawsuit brought against Republican candidate Tom Emmer last month in Wright County?
“This has nothing to do with Emmer,” Sutton said. “This gets to a core issue. You can’t hold yourself to a different standard than you hold everyone else.”
He said that the party was going to hold a news conference Friday, the day before the most recent story of Emmer’s personal legal issues, made headlines. The party delayed the meeting with the media until this morning because it wanted “to be sure” that a Dayton-Hanson settlement never had been reported by the media, he said.
Even if there is a confidentiality agreement in the settlement, Sutton and Brodkorb both said that the public has a right to know if public money was involved in the settlement.
Dayton campaign says suit is ‘old news,’ cites confidentiality
The Dayton campaign responded quickly to the latest Republican attack.
“For months the Republican Party has leveled personal attacks at Mark Dayton,” the campaign said in a statement. “Now in desperation they have stooped to digging up an old story about a U.S. Senate employee who was terminated for cause in June 2002. … This is the kind of personal attack that makes people hate politics. Minnesota voters have rejected these negative personal tactics in the past and they won’t work now.”
As for the specific issues raised by the Republicans?
“Under terms of that agreement, Mark Dayton is only permitted to say, ‘The parties have reached a settlement, the terms of which are confidential. I will reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the full amount of the settlement to relieve taxpayers of any such burden. The terms of this agreement prohibit me from making any further statement regarding this action.’ “
The carefully crafted response does imply that public money was at play in the settlement.
Neither the Republican Party nor any member of the media, to date at least, has been able to track down Hanson.
This morning’s event was just one more example of a classic good-cop, bad-cop campaign.
Unlike many of the U.S. congressional candidates who have been bashing their opponents with negative ads, the three gubernatorial candidates mostly have taken the high road in both their advertisements and in their debates, which have become almost tedious exercises in civility.
(At a Saturday debate at Hamline, moderator Jeff Passolt begged for Horner, Dayton and Emmer to “interrupt” each other. Emmer himself leaped on that and talked of the importance of “respect” among the three.)
Sutton said the party, in bringing up such things as Dayton’s family trust, his performance as a senator and now this settled suit, merely is doing its job.
Sutton defends candidate criticism as ‘job of party’
“The job of the party is to draw contrasts,” Sutton said. “The candidates’ job is to push their agenda.”
Sutton, however, didn’t compare the Republican Party with the DFL, which hasn’t been nearly so vigorous in slamming Emmer as the Republicans have been in slamming Dayton.
“We’re trying to be aggressive,” Sutton said. “Sometimes we’re feeling like the opponent is Alliance for Minnesota.”
That’s the labor-supported organization that has made most of the personal attacks on the Republican candidate.
Is there desperation involved in this latest Republican “revelation” about Dayton?
Polls have seemed to show that Emmer is having an even more difficult time expanding his base than Dayton is.
And there is this feel in the Minnesota air of something resembling Dayton momentum. Two polls have shown him with a double-digit lead, though a Rasmussen poll over the weekend showed that he leads Emmer by a statistically insignificant 2 points.
Beyond polls, other events “feel” like positives for Dayton. This week, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele is coming to Minnesota for a private fundraiser. State Republicans are making little effort to publicize this event, given the lightning rod status of Steele in the party.
Meantime, the Dayton campaign recently announced that President Obama will be coming on Oct. 23, and some form of public rally is expected.
Sutton tries to spin a presidential visit as a positive for the Emmer campaign. That visit, he said, will be a reminder to Minnesotans on how tepid the economic recovery has been.
He said that there will be an Emmer rally when presidential candidate Mitt Romney visits next week.
Hmmm. Romney versus Obama. Who will create the greater excitement?
He also said the timing of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s weekend endorsement of Emmer was “perfect.” That endorsement was nearly as much an anti-Horner statement as it was pro-Emmer. But that, too, was important, Sutton said.
“The governor says a vote for Horner is a vote for Dayton,” Sutton said, approvingly.
The Horner bandwagon is hitting the wall, Sutton said, and the party faithful are coming back to Emmer.
“People went on a date with Tom Horner,” Sutton said. “They decided they didn’t want to marry him.”
Sutton refused to apologize for calling Republicans who have announced their support for Horner “quislings,” though he said it would have been better to call them “Benedict Arnolds.”
But what he really wanted to do this morning was call Dayton harsh names.
“Come clean about the lawsuit,” Sutton said. “The champion of labor kicked the guy with a heart condition to the curb.”
With three weeks left in the campaign, there’s surely more to come.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.