Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Looking ahead, Dayton turns to Arne Carlson for advice on running the state

Serving as governor is a job no one really goes to school to learn, so the next best thing is to talk to someone who’s been one.

Mark Dayton
Mark Dayton

Ten days ago, in a quiet corner of the Minneapolis Club, Mark Dayton did just that when he and former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson shared more than a cup of coffee. Carlson gave Dayton what amounted to a white paper — several pages of details — on handling the challenges of being a governor.

My former boss (I was Carlson’s deputy chief of staff) said the advice he offered Dayton, the vote leader in the contested governor’s race, was not about public policy but rather guidelines on doing the job.

Carlson said he told DFLer Dayton that “first of all, the hardest part on a personal basis is to understand that you are the governor not of a political party but of all Minnesotans – who want you to succeed. You’re here to put together a Minnesota approach.”

Then came the nitty-gritty:

  • Transition team. Carlson says a transition team should be small with people who are knowledgeable of state government and loyal to the governor-elect and his mission. Furthermore, transition teams must lay out plans for the changeover at every state agency.
  • Chief of staff and other staff. “The chief of staff is the governor’s alter ego,” Carlson said. “Also, personally explore the staffing of your own office. You want to make sure you are compatible with them.”
  • State budget — or more specifically, the budget gap. Carlson advises the next governor to ask the current finance commissioner for a budget status report. Carlson demands details: “All the reserve funds – what is the status? When you have administrations having a rough time balancing the budget, they probably have raided reserve funds.” He ticked off the rest: a status of short-term cash flow accounts; a list of all the borrowing over the last eight years – school shifts, the tobacco fund, the health-care access fund and disclosure of plans to pay it back.
  • Legislative outreach. Carlson wrote letters frequently to legislators, and that’s how he advises the next governor to start. “Write letters to all four caucus leaders, outline current budget problem and the on-going structural problem,” he said. “Ask for their ideas to deal with both, with a fair amount of specifics. Request them to create a process that will lead to resolution. All five have to want harmony.”
  • Budget principles. Carlson’s advice veered into policy with his recommendation that one of the new governor’s goals be restoration of the triple-A bond rating, regained during the Carlson administration in the ’90s and lost in the Pawlenty administration. “A governor should say, ‘We are going to permanently resolve our financial challenges,'” he said. “Once you make it clear you are looking for a permanent way out, the public will be with you as long as they know what the goal is.”
  • Governor’s Residence. Using the Summit Avenue mansion might seem a small issue compared to the rest of the list, but Carlson has fond memories of his stay there. “You really have to live there,” he told Dayton. “And select a residence manager that reflects the tone of your administration. Make sure there is fun at the Governor’s Residence. It gives warmth to the whole experience.”

Finally, Carlson said, the best advice he could give is to be honest and open. He noted that both Dayton and GOP candidate Tom Emmer appear to have those qualities.

When Arne Carlson left the Governor’s Office in 1998, his approval rating was 70 percent – a level a Minnesota governor has not achieved since. But the ruefulness was audible when he said he told Dayton, “The advice I’m giving you is based not on my successes but my failures.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/02/2010 - 07:35 am.

    Dayton should consider a position for Arne in the new administration. In fact, why couldn’t there be a panel composed of the former Governors?

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 12/02/2010 - 09:15 am.

    “Carlson said, the best advice he could give is to be honest and open. He noted that both Dayton and GOP candidate Tom Emmer appear to have those qualities.”

    Couldn’t help but being struck by this remark, then noticing another headline just an inch or two across the screen….”Tom Emmer states bluntly that he will not be involved in any ‘stalling tactics’ on recount”.

    OK Arne, at least on the “honesty” part?? One out of two ain’t bad.

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 12/02/2010 - 12:07 pm.

    Would Arne Carlson himself be so patronizing?

    So it’s Arne the ‘wise uncle’ giving advice to Dayton(Dayton, no novice in the political arena here, remember?)…Arne the mentor figure according to Brucato’s beatitudes; story line. And so simplistically stated; patronizing in its play-by-play of the Arne-knows-best luncheon?

    We’ve endured a voting stall, the too obvious rationale, intent essentially on holding up the new governorship? Recount upon recount unjustified stalling tactics to satisfy the poor-loser mentality of a few?

    Recognized in its transparency are recounts to satisfy the Pawlenty/Emmer/Sutton trinity of arrogance; obsessive need to win at all costs?

    Gosh, golly…and we get it straight from Brucato’s mouth, who worked for Arne don’t ya know? Wow.

    Meanwhile the democratic voting process and the voter have been held hostage to the spurious,unwarranted stalling for whom? And the voting booth might just as well be reduced to firewood? Minnesota can take no pride this time around in the waste of time, and money for all the wrong reasons.

    Who should be held in contempt of the fractured voting process…by the whim of dictatorial mandates beyond reason; beyond justice? Who should be held responsible in the aftermath?

  4. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 12/02/2010 - 02:30 pm.


    As much as I am unhappy at having to go through another recount and having to listen to the bombastic Tony, it is wise to remember that the recount was triggered by the percentage difference between Dayton and Emmer and NOT by a request from Emmer himself. Yes, it would have been very gracious of him to concede once the vote was certified, but I doubt that Tony would have allowed it.

    A bill to lower the percentage triggering a recount from one-half percent to one-quarter percent was passed by both the House and Senate and was vetoed by King Timmy. So if we want to blame someone, he is the one to blame.

  5. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 12/02/2010 - 04:27 pm.

    A Governor-elect (for all intents) gets advice from a former governor? This is a time-honored dog-bites-man story, the hoariest of chestnuts, as unsurprising as Sun Rises in East. The thing that would be astounding would be if the erstwhile Republican candidate, Tom Emmer, sat down for advice from the former GOP governor, Carlson, who has been ignored and disrespected by his alleged successors.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/02/2010 - 07:09 pm.

    I would like to see Governor elect Dayton offer either John Gunyou or Pam Wheelock the position of State finance commissioner. They both have the credentials and political experience for the position.

  7. Submitted by Richard Molby on 12/03/2010 - 09:26 am.

    This gives me hope. I was never a Dayton supporter but fearful of Emmer’s (lack of) ideas and despising what the Pawlenty Machine did to this state and to the GOP, I had to cast my vote in his direction. It’s encouraging to see that he has sought out the counsel of Minnesota’s last smart governor. I eagerly await the names he will call upon to help him drive this state.

Leave a Reply