Mark Dayton: A serious man taking serious work seriously

Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

If Mark Dayton is elected governor, expect to see lights burning late into the night at the governor’s office — and at the offices of the state’s commissioners.

Dayton is a serious man who believes government can do serious work. If those around him aren’t just as serious and just as willing to work late hours, they won’t last long.

There could not be two greater contrasts than Dayton and the current office-holder:

• Tim Pawlenty is cool. Dayton is/was/forever-shall-be a nerd.

• Pawlenty is surrounded by white men in suits. Dayton will be surrounded by a diverse hodgepodge of people, many of whom will be wearing union jackets.

• Pawlenty is the governor of the suburban “haves.” Dayton will be governor of the have-nots.

• Pawlenty always gives the impression of being strong, self-confident. Dayton often exudes an aura of lonely fragility.

Gov. Dayton would create almost immediate policy changes.

He would immediately sign up Minnesota for the federal health care program that Pawlenty rejected. He would sign gay-friendly measures, such as allowing local governments to offer health insurance to same-sex couples, which Pawlenty vetoed.

He would, at least in the beginning, sit down with the Education Minnesota’s Tom Dooher, who has been Pawlenty’s foil. He would seek — and sign — the sort of big bonding bills that Pawlenty sarcastically cut to ribbons. Dayton will go anywhere at any time to sell Minnesota to businesses looking for a home; Pawlenty constantly berated Minnesota’s unfriendly business climate.

But can Mark Dayton govern? Can he survive, emotionally and physically?

Those are the huge questions that have made it so hard for so many DFLers to embrace his candidacy. Remember, the party activists and the party structure wanted Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Because of his idiosyncrasies — those intense eyes, strange facial expressions, the jolting speaking style, the alcoholism — it’s easy to underestimate Dayton.

He is a highly educated man who has traveled the world and experienced both triumph and failure.

That he comes from a different class than most of us shows up occasionally.

On Wednesday night at the so-called “job interview” gubernatorial forum, for example, his background came out in little ways. In answer to a question about his life’s journey, Dayton responded with an answer from the arts.

“Picasso was asked, ‘How long did it take you to complete that painting?’ He replied, ‘My whole life.’ ”

It was Dayton’s way of saying that all of us are works in progress. He believes that for him, “the best is yet to come.”

In answer to another question, Dayton showed he is a student of Minnesota government. When asked which governors he most models himself after, he was quick to respond, “Rudy Perpich and Harold Stassen.” He admires Perpich, Dayton said, because “he was a font of ideas.” Stassen, he said, “reformed government” and then resigned office to serve in World War II.

(When Republican Tom Emmer was asked the same question, he ducked it, saying he “admires all who served.”)

Dayton wants desperately to be a successful governor. That means, he’s said, he’ll surround himself “with professionals” starting from the beginning. His transition team, he promises, will be headed by professionals, not former politicians. Commissioners jobs will not be based on patronage but skill, he vows.

Still, he’s also always demanded personal loyalty — a trait that can conflict with the professionalism he says he seeks.

Mark Dayton: A serious man taking serious work seriously

Tom Emmer: A salesman with gusto, and a bit of a hockey brawler

Tom Horner: A bipartisan army of one ready to engage public and tackle tough issues

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 10/29/2010 - 11:23 am.

    I think “fragility” is off the mark. He certainly feels the injustices and vulnerability experienced by those who have been ignored in the past ten years. But he responds with guts. Who else would have taken seniors to Canada for affordable medicine – an act of courageous defiance when everyone else was offering nothing but palaver.

    Dayton doesn’t do palaver. He’s been specific and gutsy from the beginning of this campaign. As a governor he will welcome bold ideas. He won’t set out to obstuct every legislative initiative with his veto pen, which is truly all Pawlenty brought to the table.

    He doesn’t have Horner’s glad-handing bonhomie and he doesn’t fire up audiences with angry bombast like Emmer. He will actually govern.

  2. Submitted by Anne Keroff on 10/29/2010 - 01:34 pm.

    Actually, I thought the “fragility” comment was actually a kind way to describe the vibe Dayton gives off. I probably would have used something a little stronger. Why can’t we come up with political candidates here in Minnesota that are at least marginally competent? Not one of these three candidates strikes me as a good potential governor, and I for one am tired of picking the lesser evil.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/29/2010 - 05:13 pm.

    If all of us would just turn off the blessed TV which constantly bombards us with ads telling us how horrible each of these candidates would be, and read some good, solid information about the state of our state’s economy, how it came to be such a mess and what each of these men actually wants to do to address it, we’d likely find that there is an obvious choice for us that does not seem “evil” (even if your choice might not be the same choice I’d make).

  4. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 11/01/2010 - 09:06 pm.

    Two additional points of the unparallelness between Pawlenty and Dayton …

    1 – Despite his claim that he came from a working class background, Pawlenty long ago chose to shirk it and join the country-club (or exclusive) set. Dayton, on the other hand, was born to the manor, but is more comfortable with the downstairs group.

    2 – Pawlenty actively seeks the limelight and his ambition is plain to see although his agenda is not. But, Dayton definitely is self-effacing, humble, and appears more mission-focused.

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