Amid a morning’s chaos, Gov. Mark Dayton calms the crowd — and even welcomes protesters

Gov. Mark Dayton was the calm man in the middle at this morning's lively event.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Gov. Mark Dayton was the calm man in the middle at this morning’s lively event.

Chaos reigned today in the Governor’s Reception Room. An old vet, World War II vintage, was shouting at a state trooper.

“Give me my sign back!”

“Sir,” the trooper was saying, calmly, “I’ll give you the sign back when we’re done here.”

“That’s not good enough!” a supporter of the old man was saying.

There was more shouting. The trooper remained calm. The old man’s spouse tried to calm her husband with only limited success.

Special guests — who had been invited to watch Gov. Mark Dayton sign an executive order aligning Minnesota’s health care for the poor with expanded health care assistance — were having difficulty getting past the protesters and into the room.

Sen. Linda Berglin, the state’s godmother of health care for the poor, was the last to squeeze through the throng of angry people. She was ashen faced.

Dayton’s aides surveyed the chaos with looks of concern.

“My hands were sweating,” said Katie Tinucci, who heads the governor’s communications office. “We didn’t have any idea what he [the governor] was going to do” about the overflow, passionate throng.

Dayton entered the room promptly at 9:30, when the signing ceremony was to begin. (No matter the situation, Dayton takes pride in being prompt.) He surveyed the scene.

A new look at a new governor
And then we learned a whole lot about this new governor.

He has wandered the state for years running for various political offices. He often has spoken of the wonders of democracy and listening to the people.

Today, he showed again those are not just the empty platitudes of an old pol.

Dayton didn’t cut and run. He didn’t quickly sign and move on. He didn’t order security to clear the room.

Instead, he spoke quietly.

“We can’t hear you!” came angry shouts.

“I’m not going to speak any louder,” he said, adding that if people wanted to hear what he had to say they’d have to be silent.

There were a few boos — and there were cheers from the governor’s supporters.

Nobody had seen anything like this at the Capitol before.

Protesters -- and supporters -- crowded the room for the signing.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Protesters — and supporters — crowded the room for the signing.

Yes, there have always been protests — sometimes loud, but not in this formal room. In this room, governors traditionally have held news conferences in front of the media and with only invited guests. Security people traditionally had kept all others out.

But not this day. Angry people — some very angry people — were in the room. Dozens more were trying to enter.

Dayton couldn’t have expected this.

Not even the organizer of the protest, Twila Brase, who heads an organization called the Citzens’ Council for Health Freedom, expected this turnout of passionate protesters. She had started emailing people — Tea Partiers and other “Obama-care” foes last Friday.

“I didn’t have any idea how many would come,” she said.

The new governor then silenced the crowd with a most extraordinary invitation. He invited those protesting to come forward and share his podium. He would allow representatives from their group to speak, after he had spoken.

“This is an office where all points of view are honored and respected,” Dayton said.
Even protesters stunned by Dayton’s invitation
Brase was stunned by the invitation.

“What a surprise that was,” she said after the signing. “As far as I know, it’s never happened before. I think people were appreciative, but it didn’t change their opinions. But it may have taken the edge off of things.”

There’s no doubt about it. Dayton’s invitation did calm the anger.

The governor spoke of why he was going to sign the two executive orders. This signing, by the way, was no surprise. For months, Dayton had promised that signing the orders that change Minnesota’s health care for those in need was going to be his first official act.

Brase spoke about why she thought it was a bad idea.

An invited guest spoke of the appreciation she had for the fact that Dayton was going to sign the orders, which supporters say will save thousands of health care jobs in the state and given thousands of uninsured Minnesotans access to health care.

Another opponent — a vet, who admitted he received Veterans Administration benefits — spoke against the change.

“It’s not in the Constitution,” he said, angrily.

When Dayton supporters hooted, the governor stepped in.

He asked that people applaud those they agreed with but remain “respectfully silent” of those they disagreed with.

“This is the people’s room,” he said of the reception area, which has been treated as a quasi-private room by previous governors.

Another supporter, a young woman who had watched her brother die of cancer for lack of health care insurance, spoke appreciatively of the fact that Dayton was going to sign.

Another foe, a young man, spoke, saying that churches, not the government, should take care of the health of the poor.

Then, Dayton did another remarkable thing. He thanked ALL who had come.

He thanked the key legislators, who had worked the executive orders into a compromise with Pawlenty at the end of last session: former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, Sen. Berglin, Reps. Erin Murphy and Tom Huntley.

Those legislators received considerable abuse from their peers on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives didn’t like the fact that the power of whether to move Minnesota into the federal program would be handed to the next governor. Liberals thought that their leaders had caved in to Pawlenty.

Dayton thanked the special guests, those involved in health care for the poor, who stood behind him for the ceremony. And then he thanked those who had come to protest.

Democracy is often “noisy,” he noted.

It was, it should be noted, especially noisy from the lungs of one toddler, who screamed throughout part of the ceremony.

“His mother couldn’t get him out of the room,” Brase said.

That’s how tightly packed the room was, and how unwilling many were to even make room for a mom and screaming kid.

Surely, Capitol security and his staffers will try to talk Dayton down from this position that events like today’s should always be open. The anger of the protesters was genuine, and heartfelt. Many in the crowd believe they have God and the U.S. Constitution on their side.

Even Republican legislative leaders were trying to raise constitutional questions about Dayton’s signing of the documents. But those leaders — Sen. Warren Limmer and Sen. David Hann — were in a rather uncomfortable spot. They were criticizing Dayton for doing what he had promised to do. At the same time, they were trying not to be critical of Pawlenty, who had agreed to allowing the executive orders to be included in a compromise bill.

Pawlenty had refused to sign the orders. Had Republican Tom Emmer been elected, he would not have signed the bill, he has said. (Independence Party candidate Tom Horner had pledged that he would sign the orders.)

Dayton, after speaking and listening, quietly did sign the orders, using a number of pens so that they could be passed out to supporters.

He signed, he smiled, he passed out the pens, he shook hands, and then he left “the people’s room.”

After that, the old man got his sign back, and the angry people melted away.

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 (16)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2011 - 03:11 pm.

    Bravo, Governor Dayton!!

    A true “free-speech zone”.

    That takes courage and a belief in the American way–something that many people talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

  2. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 01/05/2011 - 04:00 pm.

    What a difference! All Pawlenty did was ridicule people who disagreed with him. Governor Dayton must have been reading Gandhi last night, though his quiet voice probably came from his teaching experience.

    I love the image of the veteran who has probably been taking advantage of free health care since 1945. Veteran’s benefits – are those in the constitution? I may have to reconsider my support for those who have served our country if it is not specifically enumerated in the constitution.

  3. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 01/05/2011 - 04:01 pm.

    Why shouldn’t Dayton be calm? He is spending other people’s money on this expanded health care access, not his. Even if some of the tax dollars it costs, come out of his pocket, he won’t care. Dayton is a very wealthy man. He can easily afford it. It’s the rest of us, who can barely scrape by, who will suffer from Obamacare.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/05/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    Marvelous – after eight years, we have a governor.

    Mark Dayton is not planning on running for higher office, unlike his predecessor. Therefore he can do the right thing without worrying about what a national constituency might do.

    Let us take advantage of this situation to right our state, Republicans included.

  5. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/05/2011 - 04:46 pm.

    That’s small as far as crises go, but Dayton had his first crisis moment and handled it as well as possible. It’s too bad none of the people shouting at him haven’t a clue what he signed except it’s somehow connected to health care reform.

  6. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 01/05/2011 - 06:21 pm.

    Although I didn’t vote for Gov. Dayton, he certainly has my respect for signing the Medicaid measure AND for his statesmanly handling of the situation in the Capitol. Genuine kudos to the governor for setting a praiseworthy example.

    As for the fellow who gets services through the VA … but says health care isn’t in the Constitution. Good grief. Wish it surprised me but it doesn’t.

  7. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 01/05/2011 - 11:24 pm.

    How lovely to have a statesman-like governor at last. I suspect, however, that public school teaching experience lent conviction and credibility to his statement that, if people wanted to hear him, they’d have to be quiet. Brilliant.

  8. Submitted by Walter Hudson on 01/05/2011 - 11:31 pm.

    It’s always interesting to hear a different perspective on an event you attended. I was there, and know both vets referenced above personally. I was feet away as the plain clothes state trooper towered over this diminutive old man. He did not immediately identify himself as a trooper. Those are somewhat relevant facts which are missing above.

    The account of the crying toddler is inaccurate. I was in the antechamber and witnessed the crowd part to let that mother out.

    Dayton’s conduct was admirable. Of course, it was also very shrewd. Allowing opposition voices served as a release value for the frustration among the crowd.

  9. Submitted by Susan White on 01/06/2011 - 07:47 am.

    The idea that every legislative act should have been stated in the constitution is false. The enumeration argument failed during the Constitutional Congress when the Framers reached a compromise. The protesters do not know the history of our democracy. Even the Framers who had wanted enumeration accepted the compromises and behaved responsibly. Remember, the need for a new constitution resulted from the numerous problems that occurred under the Articles of Confederation which the U.S Constitution replaced. Governor Dayton behaved responsibly and in the great tradition of American democracy. The protesters have exercised their rights and should accept the result.

  10. Submitted by larry boss on 01/06/2011 - 08:11 am.

    Well played by Governor Dayton.

    This is the kind of embarrassing theater that the sophomoric fraternity style leadership of MN GOP Chair Tony Sutton (of Quisling fame) and his side kick Deputy Chair Michael Brodkorb are so very good at passing off as political debate. The veteran who took the podium, Leon Moe, is a well-known far right wing Ron Paul radical and sometimes Constitution Party and sometimes GOP supporter, who likes to pass himself off as a veteran spokesperson, which he is not. The MN GOP, with antics like this, is setting themselves up for a DFL return to power in Minnesota in 2012.

    Note to the Minnesota GOP, Mark Dayton is not your enemy, he is your Governor. He was elected by the people of Minnesota over your candidate to work with the Minnesota House and Senate to move this state forward. Find common ground with him and when you can’t agree, act as adults. Today Mark Dayton gave you children a lesson on how to act as an adult.

  11. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/06/2011 - 08:27 am.

    Gee. Don’t we miss those snide Pawlenty putdowns
    though? Our governor is a real gentleman and a
    good leader.

  12. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/06/2011 - 09:22 am.

    Let us never forget that, when the Bush regime held power nationally, these dissenting voices would have been forced into a separate room in a separate building, would NOT have been provided so much as a closed circuit TV image of Governor Dayton’s announcement. Their only publicity would have been from the media who might have interviewed ONE of them (but likely they would have received nothing more than a two-second glimpse as a group of “protesters).

    Of course if any of them sought to object to such treatment, they would have been arrested.

    And isn’t it strange how much and how often conservatives such as these tend to characterize their opposition as “angry” when, in reality, such a demonstration was never attempted at ANY signing event over which King Timmy presided. The Democrats are simply too well balanced psychologically and too polite to feel any compulsion to pursue such boorish behavior (which, sadly, is often seen by “conservatives” and the media as “strength”).

    Still I fear that, although Governor Dayton’s excellent handling of this organized attempt to disrupt a simple signing ceremony, resulted in a peaceful conclusion because, in allowing his detractors a platform, he caught them completely by surprise (if the shoe had been on the other foot, they would NEVER have done so, but would have had the protesters removed if not arrested), I fear that these same screaming Mimi’s will continue to seek to disrupt his every appearance, continuously turning up the volume in an attempt to drown him out completely.

    This bears witness to how desperately those detractors are seeking to maintain their delusional worldview by drowning out any accurate information or actual facts which might challenge what they BELIEVE to be true (all evidence to the contrary).

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/06/2011 - 11:13 am.

    Personally this is armchair quarterbacking but I am a little disappointed in this open policy. I would like to have heard the 2 other pro healthcare speakers, Doug could you track them down they also deserve a right to be heard.

  14. Submitted by John Bendt on 01/06/2011 - 12:00 pm.

    I attended this event. The repeated description of the people opposed to the signing on the executive order as angry is a deliberate attempt to label them as an unthinking, rude mob. The little amount of heckling that occurred came from both sides. The veteran who admitted he received veterans benefits finished this statement by saying he therefore knows what government health care quality is like. Quite a different picture than the one Mr. Grow intended for the reader to take away.

  15. Submitted by Lynda Friedman on 01/06/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    I would really welcome an explanation from people like the veteran who uses government health care (however poor he thinks the quality is) and opposes the current reforms of the health insurance industry. What alternative is he suggesting would be a better choice? Why is he using a service he opposes for other people? This really seems like one of those “Of course I am pro-life even though I support unlimited access to guns, the death penalty and oppose any government programs for children once they are actually born.” How do these people hold such opposite ideas in their minds at the same time? This is an honest question; I am not making fun of people who hold signs ” Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare”. I really would like a coherent explanation from one of them or someone who can speak on their behalf. The comments from attendees who had a totally different idea of what happened at this event from the reporter are very troubling. Does one’s political ideology affect one’s eyesight and hearing?

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/06/2011 - 05:17 pm.

    #14: I was there, too, and had the same impression as Mr. Grow.

    One gentleman (angry) who was there protesting the “unconstitutional” taking of his money to pay for the health care of others told me he was a state employee but that his wife was on Medicaid.

    Oh, I said. So my taxes pay for YOUR health care. He had apparently not looked at it that way before and seemed embarrassed. Maybe the others there with signs have not either.

    #3, Rosalind: I sympathize with your situation. The solution can’t be, however, to cut poor people off from the care we ALL deserve as human beings. The most efficient, least expensive, 100 percent inclusive way to be sure that every person receives preventive, curative and palliative care is a system paid for the same way we pay for police and fire protection — with progressive taxes. If you have little, you pay little. If you have much, you pay more. Check out the description of Senator John Marty’s Minnesota Health Plan at

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