The political resurrection of Mark Dayton proves that it is folly to completely write off any political personage or entity.
But Dayton had two things most pols don’t have: money and name recognition.
November’s election results will mean some major Minnesota political players will fade away, at least in the short term and likely forever. There even are some winners who will end up losers as the new year unfolds.
Here are my nominees for The Un-Magnificent Seven of 2011:
Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau: She got a two-year head start on her fade. She was booted from the position she most wanted in the Pawlenty administration — commissioner of the state’s department of transportation — following the collapse of the I-35W Bridge on Aug. 1, 2007. In the aftermath of the collapse, it was shown that Molnau had run a slipshod agency. (Remember the name Sonia Morphew Pitt? She was the emergency preparedness management director who didn’t bother coming home to Minnesota in the wake of the bridge collapse, and it took Molnau a few days to notice she wasn’t around.) After Molnau lost her job as DOT commissioner, she returned as the full-time lieutenant governor but raised obscurity to new levels, even compared with past lieutenant governors. Her days as a player in Minnesota politics are over.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller: He easily won re-election in November but has lost all his once-considerable power. First elected to the Senate in 1982, the Minneapolis DFLer quickly rose through the ranks by gaining an understanding of Senate rules that impressed all. He became chairman of the K-12 education committee and then the powerful tax committee before becoming Senate majority leader in 2006. The Republican takeover in November means that high-profile leadership post is gone. He quickly announced that he would not seek the position of minority leader, a good move because he likely wouldn’t have been elected to that post by his peers. For the first time in decades, Pogemiller will be just another face in the crowd of pols at the Capitol.
The 8th Congressional District: Suddenly, the sprawling northern district has become a “so what?” region of the country. By unceremoniously tossing 36-year U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar out of office, the district went from being a major recipient of federal money to just another remote congressional district in the middle of the country. The good news for the northern portions of the district is that the new governor is a man who appreciates loyalty. Mark Dayton owes his election victories in both the primary and the general election to the Iron Range and St. Louis County. He will do everything he can to help foster economic activity in northern Minnesota. But for the next few years, the major political news in the 8th won’t be about the newest multimillion-dollar federal project (there won’t be any), but about whom the Democrats will run in two years to try to unseat rookie Chip Cravaack.
Tom Emmer: The Republican gubernatorial candidate came closer to winning the big job than most “experts” — including pollsters — expected. But close doesn’t count for much in politics. Despite Emmer winning high marks from Dayton and various editorial boards for his “gracious” acceptance of recount defeat, hard-core Republicans are more likely to remember that the party’s candidate failed to win the big race, despite the huge national Republican wave this year. A new crop of leaders is being groomed in the Legislature. Emmer was liked, but not respected, as a legislator, meaning he likely won’t have influence as a lobbyist or consultant. He never has been known as a student of government, meaning there’s no logical place for him in any conservative think tanks. He’s likely destined to be a sentence in state political history books.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher: Just where does the unsuccessful DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate turn to start rebuilding her political career? Will she even want to? Kelliher, who just a few months ago was one of the state’s strongest leaders, still has a few things in her corner: youth (she’s only 42) and an incredible political resume (as House Speaker, she got high marks from both sides of the aisle for attempting to be a consensus builder). But, like Emmer, she’s now a loser, and unlike Dayton, she’s not wealthy, meaning she will not be able to be a perpetual campaigner. There is some speculation that she might run for mayor of Minneapolis, if R.T. Rybak ever decides to step aside. For the moment, however, she has accepted the job of president of the Minnesota High Tech Association, not exactly a headline-grabbing spot.
Tarryl Clark: The lure of knocking Michele Bachmann out of the Congress was just too much for the St. Cloud area politician to resist. So she stepped out of her high-profile position as assistant majority leader of the state Senate and into a race that she eventually lost by a stunning 13 points. Her youth (she’s 49) and redistricting might open a door for Clark in the future, but the size of her loss and the unfocused nature of her campaign would seem to leave her without much of a base.
Tom Horner: The Independence Party candidate and his party got the opponents they dreamed of in the governor’s race. Horner received the endorsement of virtually all of the state’s newspapers — and the support of three former governors. He got stomped in the general election. He may try to keep spreading his moderate Republican message, but who will listen? Given the results of November, how can the Independence Party ever recover from the widely held wasted-vote syndrome?