For battered Democrats, Mark Dayton is the last man standing

Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Mark Dayton

Good humor turned to gallows humor as the evening dragged on at the big DFL “victory celebration” at the Minneapolis Hilton Tuesday night.

Now, the day after the election, it appears all that the once-powerful party has to celebrate is that Mark Dayton holds a lead in the neighborhood of 9,000 votes over Republican Tom Emmer in a race that likely won’t officially end until votes are recounted.

With the Minnesota House gone, the Senate gone, the one hope DFLers have left is Dayton, who once seemed the most fragile of DFL candidates.

Progressives in the party, such as Sen. John Marty, said Dayton was standing alone because he ran with the simplest, most progressive message.

“He wasn’t afraid to run on our values,” Marty said.

The message, he said, should be clear not only to Minnesota’s Democrats, but to Democrats across the nation, that Democrats must “stop being afraid to say what they believe in.”

Horner factor just as likely
Pollsters and other observers said that it’s just as likely that Dayton was holding a slight lead over Emmer because of the Tom Horner factor. Though the Independence Party candidate picked up only about 12 per cent of the vote — far lower than his once lofty expectations — he may have been the reason Emmer didn’t perform as well as Gov. Tim Pawlenty had performed in places such as Dakota County.

Given the political extremes that Dayton and Emmer represented, Horner’s poor showing indicates there’s really only one avenue left open for IP candidates: Ranked Choice Voting. The party’s platform long has called for the state to move to the system, which has been adopted in Minneapolis, St. Paul and a handful of other places.

The IP argument is buoyed by the fact that either Dayton or Emmer will be the third successive governor to win without capturing a majority of the vote. (Jesse Ventura won with 37 percent, and Pawlenty won with 44 and 47 percent.)

Entering Election Day, there were substantial numbers of DFLers who were convinced that Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had won endorsement at the party’s convention, would have been a stronger gubernatorial candidate than Dayton.

But given the huge Republican legislative wins, that idea is dubious. The one thing Minnesota voters seemed clear on is that they were not pleased with the work of the Legislature in the last few years when the DFL held large majorities. It’s hard to imagine that having been speaker of the House would have been helpful to Kelliher in this election cycle.

That DFL legislators took such a shellacking seemed to come as a surprise — even to Republicans.
According to MinnPost reporter Eric Black, Republicans didn’t start showing excitement over legislative races until late in the evening.

It wasn’t until about midnight when the party’s chairman, Tony Sutton, took the stage at the Bloomington Sheraton and told the faithful that he was optimistic that Republicans would win control of the state Senate for the first time in 38 years. Or ever. (Prior to 1972, legislators didn’t carry party labels but, rather, were loosely called “conservatives’’ or “liberals.’’)

Moving time
It was after 1 a.m. when GOP Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb announced that it was time for DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller “to move across the street.’’ (That is reference to the fact that the Senate majority has offices in the state Capitol while the minority resides in the far-less-impressive State Office Building.)

Oh, what an incredibly topsy-turvy night it was.

Even IF Dayton manages to prevail, his tax-the-rich agenda has no chance of going anywhere with a Legislature that will absolutely oppose any new taxes.

The most popular motto — on T-shirts and buttons — at the Republican Party headquarters Tuesday night was: “Less Taxes, More Jobs: You Betcha; Emmer for Governor.”

These new legislative leaders will be filled with anti-tax fire. Moderation is not what the new class of legislative Republicans is about. The new legislative leaders will be listening closely to the newcomers who put them in power.

Kurt Zellers is all but certain to be the new speaker of the House. He is a what’s-good-for-business-is-good-for-Minnesota true believer.

It’s less certain who the Senate majority leader will be. Rochester’s Dave Senjem has been the Republican’s minority leader. But by the end of last session, Sen. Geoff Michael of Edina was becoming more and more the face of Senate Republicans. And Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo was being credited by Senjem Tuesday night as the architect of Republicans’ takeover in the senate. Of that group, Senjem comes closest to being a moderate.

The one new revenue idea that could pass muster is racinos, which DFLers had held out against at the risk of losing tribal support. Now the tribes and the DFL have about equal amounts of power.

But Dayton, recall, did buck tribal interests by pushing the idea of a state-run casino, perhaps at the Mall of America. All of this means expanded gambling in some form might sail.

Jobs one area of agreement
There is one other key area where Republicans and a Gov. Dayton could find agreement: jobs.  Both have said that’s priority No. 1.  Businesses will trust Republicans in that quest. Unions, whose declining strength becomes more evident in every election, will trust Dayton.

That trust, by the way, may be what ultimately spared Dayton the fate of so many other DFLers. It’s a trust based on Dayton’s actions.

On Election Night, Bob Bratulich, director of the Steelworkers, District 11, was explaining why his union was so quick to support Dayton. Only the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees beat the Steelworkers to Dayton’s very small bandwagon.


Bratulich told the story of Dayton’s final year in the Senate. The Steelworkers were getting nowhere in a dispute with Gerdau, a Brazilian corporation.

“We called Mark,’’ recalled Bratulich. “He got on a plane during Easter break, flew to Sao Paulo and sat on a curb outside Gerdau headquarters until their executives agreed to meet with him. That meeting helped us resolve a dispute we had in South St. Paul at the time. That’s the kind of friend he is.’’

Dayton has made it clear in a campaign that began in January 2009 that he would “go anywhere’’ to attract businesses to the state.

Without any legislative support, a Gov. Dayton could — and certainly would — sign an executive order for the state to do the early opt-in for Medicaid money. That would call for a $188 million state investment but leverage — DFLers believe — $1.4 billion in federal money that would take much of the pressure off  budget problems caused by skyrocketing health care costs for the poor. Emmer, like Pawlenty, opposed early opt-in.

A Gov. Dayton also would have the power to appoint commissioners and use his veto stamp with the same gusto that Pawlenty did. As Pawlenty showed, that’s a lot of power.

But  whether Dayton has the makeup to be an effective governor in such a tight space is unclear.
He is notoriously impatient. He says he quit, after one term, in the U.S. Senate because of the messiness of that body. An executive position, he believed, would allow him to set a clear course, act decisively.

But even if he wins, he’s going to be stepping into a situation that’s anything but clear. DFL insiders say that it would be crucial for Dayton to find a “cool hand’’ to help guide him, relax him and negotiate with Republicans, who will be feeling feisty.

That’s all DFLers have to hang their tattered hats on.

Confidence didn’t last
Tuesday night, which began with confident claims that “Minnesota would buck the national trend’’ — the claim came from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman, and Dayton himself — ended with a lot of people slowly and numbly leaving the “victory celebration.”

Fingers already were being pointed everywhere.

Big losers of the night, beyond all those relatively nameless state DFL legislators who were pummeled, were all around.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, a rising star in the party, was suddenly taking blame for not doing enough to stave off the debacle. Pogemiller, always powerful but never particularly popular, was being written off. The entire DFL party apparatus was being viewed by many as being incompetent.

There were casualties outside the party as well, the biggest likely being Education Minnesota head Tom Dooher, a target of Republicans across the state. Dooher, seen as an obstructionist to education reform even by some DFLers, saw his biceps shrivel.

The only man still standing is Dayton, who once seemed the most fragile of DFLers.

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 (15)

  1. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/03/2010 - 12:28 pm.

    Though Tom Horner may indeed help Mark Dayton into office, I must admit that I still have nothing but contempt for the Minnesota Independence Party. They are still unable to nominate someone who can WIN. They get on their soapboxes and tell us how the two party system is so corrupt. And they run campaigns based on their smug sense of self-satisfaction.

    And yet all they accomplished is muddying the election — again.

  2. Submitted by John Sinna on 11/03/2010 - 12:36 pm.

    Warm up the lawyers…revenge for Franken is going to be served.

    If Dayton had a spine, he would walk away now. None of the things he wants are going to get thru the new House and Senate, so he is left with 4yrs to be an odd goof in the public eye…who would want that? If you are a D (DFL is dumb by the way) strategist, isn’t it better to give it away now so that you can blame everything that happens from here on the (R)s and not a mixed government?

  3. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/03/2010 - 12:46 pm.

    Doug, please name one position of Dayton’s that could possibly be construed as “extreme.” Your silence will be deafening.

    This is the basic problem with media these days — fairness at the expense of accuracy. You called both Dayton and Emmer extreme. You wouldn’t want to look partisan now, would you?

  4. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 11/03/2010 - 01:16 pm.

    My contempt is for the fickle and irrational voters out there who change directions from election year to election year. Because of their inconsistency, we stay teetering on a seesaw of political climate that ends up pleasing no one in the long run.

    Were we ever aware of the fallacy that the Tea Party is not really the Repubican party in wolf’s clothing? And now that the Republicans are back in power, are we going to delude ourselves that they will not undo everything that’s been done? Let’s face it. The country is going to be like the RMS Titanic if it keeps this up.

    And as far as Minnesota is concerned, we might as well admit it. We are as kooky as they come. We elect a Bachmann, an Ellison, a Cravaack, a McCollum, etc. And for Governor, it looks like we may not want to change captains in the middle of an unhappy voyage.

    So, what’s the point? The sum total of all our efforts appears to amount to zero!

  5. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 11/03/2010 - 01:40 pm.

    John, I don’t know why I’m bothering to respond to such extremist views, but… Dayton is ahead with 30x the margin than the Coleman/Franken difference was. I assume you meant to say Emmer should walk away? He should heed Coleman’s day-after advice, only with 30x the electoral weight?

    It’s obvious this fabricated indignation is merely a way to ensure that there will be overlap between a Republican legislature and a Republican governorship. Hopefully most people see through the fuss. Lunch hour is over; back to work.

  6. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 11/03/2010 - 02:20 pm.

    Thank you Matt, for your succinct reply to John. I really couldn’t have said it better, and I’m glad someone responded with what is so obvious, except to those who don’t wish to see reality.

  7. Submitted by Addie Moe on 11/03/2010 - 02:31 pm.

    Just remember, when the all Republican show doesn’t accomplish any more than the Dem majority, the same thing is going to happen two years from now… Voters are very fickle and have NO sense of perspective. Amazing any government (state or federal) is able to operate, especially in these days of such divisive and partisan politics. We’ll see how much the Republicans “listen” to their constituents when the squeeze starts to affect the services everyone expects. Small government you say? Except when YOU need it, right? Good luck folks… Let the next round of the circus begin.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/03/2010 - 03:07 pm.

    Vikings fans will benefit from a Dayton/GOP state government because both agree on using gaming receipts to fund a new stadium.

    With the Indians and their bought and paid for DFL legislature out of the way, it’s all possible now.

    On the other hand, if Pawlenty gets to stay on a governor for the beginning of the new session, they should use that oppotunity to pass a Voter ID law once and for all. And btw, SCOTUS has already ruled that such a law is indeed constitutional.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/03/2010 - 04:00 pm.

    “We’ll see how much the Republicans “listen” to their constituents when the squeeze starts to affect the services everyone expects.”

    Oddly enough, those of us working in the private sector have been feeling the squeeze for two years now, but somehow still manage to produce the products and services we were hired to provide.

    Wondering if government workers sitting on their hands waiting for another automatic raise won’t backfire sometime in the very near future….like when constituents start asking where the services they paid for are.

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/03/2010 - 05:27 pm.

    The sanctimoniousness of Messrs. Tester and Swift is both ill-conceived and ill-advised. Let’s wait to see just what the GOP legislature proposes and enacts before we dislocate a shoulder patting ourselves on the back.

    It seems odd to me that the Party of Sanctimony would endorse gambling as a revenue source for the state, given its unpredictability and questionable moral heritage, but ethical and intellectual consistency don’t seem to be very important to its proponents. So be it. I won’t be taking advantage of the “opportunity” at any local casinos.

    While I have no real objection to ensuring that voters are actually citizens, Mr. Tester raises a straw man. Is there viable evidence that there is significant voter fraud, even among the the population groups that Mr. Tester would presumably like to disenfranchise? Is it taking place to a degree requiring people who purportedly believe strongly in “small government,” to pass a law requiring everyone who wants to vote to prove who they are?

    Doesn’t that smack of Big Brother? How will right-leaners feel about a national I.D. card, which might well be the most practical solution to such concerns?

    The “squeeze” being felt in Mr. Swift’s part of the private sector was likely brought about by other segments of the private sector, largely unregulated at their own request, and helped along by a compliant Congress rather thoroughly under the thumb of those very same, very private, interests. Note that the stereotypical “government workers sitting on their hands waiting for another automatic raise” isn’t based on anything factual, but reflects the usual right-leaning malevolence toward the public sector. Who are those government workers sitting on their hands waiting for another automatic raise?

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/03/2010 - 09:25 pm.

    Nonsense, David. When I’ve been unemployed I never sought help from the state. Believe it or not, not everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to a personal problem is to go seek help from government.

  12. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 11/04/2010 - 12:19 am.

    I think John Marty is correct in his assessment that Dayton won, against the tide, because he ran on progressive values. He may be quirky but voters trust Dayton to do what he promises.

    The lack of delivery on the promised progressive change is what did the Democrats in. The Democrats at the national and state levels have not been progressive.

    – 65 percent of citizen wanted a public option yet the Democrats failed to provide a public option — instead they delivered a windfall to the big health insurance corporations.

    – ordinary citizens want some degree of job security yet the Democrats delivered bailouts for the rich and mortgage foreclosures and joblessness to many ordinary citizens.

    – ordinary citizens want some frugality from the government at this time yet the Democrats keep right on funding arts and this frivolous thing and that like there is no tomorrow.

    – at the state level we have seen the same. There is no money for medical care for the vets but the Democrats surely managed to take care of their friends in the arts.

    The greediness of the Democratic politicians is apparent to the voters. It is too bad that most Democrats are blinded when they look in the mirror.

  13. Submitted by bea sinna on 11/04/2010 - 02:31 pm.

    If everyone had voted with a conscience and everyone with a conscience had voted, Tom Horner would be our governor.

  14. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 11/05/2010 - 04:49 pm.

    It’s odd to say Dayton is the last man standing when EVERY statewide office (Attorney General, State Auditor, Secretary of State) was won by the DFL. My suspicion is that a lot of DFL votes were focused in a relatively few districts: the excess DFL votes would factor in a statewide election but not in other districts. Does anyone recall who was in charge of redistricting in 2000? The results of this election point to flagrant gerrymandering.

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