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Latest GOP attack goes after Mark Dayton over legal settlement, arguing his actions differ from words

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.

Tony Sutton
Tony Sutton

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.’ “

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

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.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/11/2010 - 03:44 pm.

    “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.”

    Sorry; that isn’t “harsh name calling”, Doug.

    That is a description of harsh actions that fly in the face of someone that claims to “fight for workers”.

    Maybe Dayton meant he “fights workers”…all the way to the Supreme Court?

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2010 - 03:47 pm.

    ‘It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.’
    – Ronald Reagan

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/11/2010 - 04:32 pm.

    “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.”

    The Emmer campaign is responding to the Dayton campaign, dead tree division.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/11/2010 - 07:23 pm.

    This story just got a whole lot more interesting…Pat Kessler is on the scent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16D969BHOsU&feature=youtu.be

    The documents have been destroyed…where have we seen *that* before?

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2010 - 07:41 pm.

    Is this like when God doesn’t faith heal you, you just didn’t believe hard enough?

    On another note. Politically astute Governor Pawlenty tepidly endorsed Rep. Emmer from Iowa. The distance of a few hundred miles must have made it a bit more palpable for the governor.

  6. Submitted by Josh Lease on 10/11/2010 - 11:46 pm.

    I’m amazed that Tony Sutton, such a proponent of business and “right to work” rules that allow employers to can employees at the drop of a hat for any or no reason at all, an opponent of even the most basic worker protections actually managed to make this criticism without a lightning bolt striking him.

    This story will have no traction because it’s absolutely laughable for the GOP to pretend to give a crap about people who work for a living.

  7. Submitted by Fluffy Rabinowitz on 10/12/2010 - 06:27 am.

    Emmer has had 2 DUI’s and continues to drink! Emmer is a ‘Functional Alcoholic’ who is clueless about his behavior. The attack on Dayton is a just a smoke-screen to detract from Emmer’s malpractice, mortgage and chemical heatlh problems.

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/12/2010 - 07:12 am.

    Josh (#6):

    “This story will have no traction because it’s absolutely laughable for the GOP to pretend to give a crap about people who work for a living.”

    The pretender in this story in not the GOP; the pretender is Mark Dayton. He is pretending to “give a crap about people who work for a living”, while conducting himself in a contrasting fashion. In the case of Brad Hanson, the taxpayers picked up the tab. And, no surprise, the documents got destroyed.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/12/2010 - 07:28 am.

    Is it important if Sutton does or not…do *you* give a crap, Josh?

    The version I’ve read is that Brad Hanson told Dayton he needed heart surgery, and Dayton responded “you’re done”.

    Is that how a liberal “fights for workers”?

  10. Submitted by Kathy Coulter on 10/12/2010 - 08:11 am.

    With regard to the expected “excitement” of Barack showing up in Minneapolis, it is interesting to note the following from Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin, no great friend of Republican conservatism:

    http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,2024718,00.html

    I think one would have to seriously question the intellectual capacity and attentiveness to reality of anyone still “excited” enough to show up and squeal and swoon for the HopeyChangey One. Any crowd shot of this gathering would, of necessity, have to be captioned “You Really CAN Fool Some of the People All of the Time !”

  11. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 10/12/2010 - 09:09 am.

    Dayton should hire this guy to answer press inquiries about this settled lawsuit.

    Oh, wait – he’s already working for Emmer….

    Oh, and BTW – it’s interesting that GOPers, who always profess such a respect for the law, are demanding that Dayton break the terms of the settlement and discuss things he agreed he wouldn’t.

    Typical, too: “Republicans respect the rule of law (except when they don’t).

  12. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/12/2010 - 09:47 am.

    Tommy (#11);

    There should be no secret settlement when taxpayers money is being “spent”. It is my money and I deserve and demand to know how it is being wasted.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/12/2010 - 10:52 am.

    You’re right Steve, and Dayton knows it too.

    That’s why he has offered to pay the settlement out of his trust fund.

    Who voluntarily pays a penalty for something he says he is not guilty of?

    Someone with something to hide.

    The cone of silence was obviously invoked by Dayton, not the plaintiff.

    Who buys silence?

    Someone with something to hide.

    The incoherent sputtering we see Dayton’s feckless ilk engaging in gives lie to the truth; there is a story here, and it’s a nasty one that Dayton knows could sink his leaky boat.

  14. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 10/12/2010 - 10:53 am.

    @SteveRose

    You mean like when the state of MN pays TPaw to campaign for president?

  15. Submitted by Jim Roth on 10/12/2010 - 11:19 am.

    Sorry to invoke reality when some of you smell blood in the water, but the “cone of silence”, i.e. confidentiality agreements, are universally used in employment settlements both public and private. I think you’ll have to find something else to talk about since, if you check with anyone in the public or private sector who deals with employment issues, these agreements are commonplace.

  16. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/12/2010 - 12:24 pm.

    Kevin (#14):

    That is no secret.

    Our President was ostensibly a U.S. Senator while he campaigned for his current job for 18 months. That is how the game is played. If you are saying that you don’t like how the game is played, I agree with you.

    Jim (#15): What companies do is between them and their stakeholders. We the citizens are the stakeholders in public employment. The government is accountable to us, and there should be no secret settlements.

    The city of Minneapolis has settled many employment law suits, including this one last month for $210,000:

    http://www.freechristianpress.com/legal/minneapolis-settles-lawsuit-over-wrongful-termination-of-christian-psychologist/

    As they should be, the terms were disclosed. It happens all the time; no reason for secrecy.

  17. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/13/2010 - 08:51 am.

    It occurs to me that something was made ambiguous that did not need to be, nor should be. The fact that something is common does not make it right. Do what you like in your private affairs, but when taxpayer money is in play, the taxpayers have a right to the financial details of the transaction. The fact that Dayton offered to pay adds more ambiguity and subterfuge to the story.

  18. Submitted by Jim Roth on 10/13/2010 - 05:03 pm.

    Steve,

    I researched the case you referred to and it involved a city contractor not an employee. If you want to make the case that all settlements involving public employees should be made public then go to work on that and don’t just attack Mark Dayton and one settlement. I think if you do some further research you’ll find, like I said, that settlements of employment disputes contain confidentiality agreements.

    We obviously don’t know the terms of the settlement but I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that Dayton agreed to reimburse the government. He also agreed to forgo being paid a salary in the past.

    However, if government employees, who are almost always protected by some form of immunity, agreed to accept personal liability it would perhaps, in some cases, be a positive thing. Dayton should most likely be praised and not damned for volunteering to do that since he was most likely protected by immunity.

  19. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/14/2010 - 11:44 am.

    Jim (#19):

    As a MinnPost commenter, I am free to criticize Mark Dayton without the requirement to “go to work on that”.

    Yes, we don’t know the terms, which is the problem. What we do know is that Dayton tried to claim immunity, attempting to use the Speech and Debate Clause of the U.S. constitution. The District court denied that motion. We have no reason to expect that we will not see more of the same if Dayton becomes Minnesota’s Chief Executive.

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