Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is facing his first — and last — race for re-election this fall, and with that comes some unique challenges.
This time, the first-term governor has a record to run on, which can cut both ways. While he plans to tout increased job numbers and investments in education over his first four years in office, he will also have to defend his support for increased taxes and the state’s rocky rollout of its health insurance exchange, MNsure.
At 67, Dayton is also now Minnesota’s oldest sitting governor, and recent hip surgery could make campaigning more strenuous than it was during his first run in 2010.
For now, at least, things don’t look so bad. The Star Tribune’s recent Minnesota Poll put Dayton’s approval rating at 58 percent, his highest since entering office three years ago. But facing a six-candidate Republican field for governor, Dayton knows he will weather many more political attacks before November.
“A year is a millennium in politics. We are still two-thirds of a millennium away from next November’s decision date,” Dayton told MinnPost in an interview about the upcoming legislative session and his re-election campaign. “I’ve been doing my best for the first three years of my term and I intend to continue to do my best for this next year, and I hope people will decide that Minnesota has made significant progress during my term.”
Here are Dayton’s Monday comments on a wide range of subjects:
Dayton on his recent hip surgery and how it will affect his campaign:
“It limits my mobility right now. I have a partial body cast on. I’m meeting today with Rep. [Paul] Thissen and Majority Leader [Tom] Bakk. I’ll be doing those kind of legislative meetings here at the residence instead of the Capitol for the next couple of weeks, and then after that, I expect to be at the Capitol. I’ll have a brace on but hopefully — I’ll not race around the block — but I’ll be out there and able to hold meetings and the like. I’m already fully engaged.
“If this were to persist, I would be concerned, but I don’t expect that to happen. I expect by the summertime to be able to move around freely and I intend to move around the state. I have a job to do as governor, so I’m going to give that the first priority, but there will be additional time that I will be able to spend around the state, and I look forward to doing that.”
Dayton on his message to voters this fall:
“We’ve turned the corner in Minnesota; we straightened out our fiscal problems. We are running surpluses now instead of multi-billion-dollar budget deficits. We paid back the $2.8 billion we owed the school districts and we straightened out the state’s fiscal mess.
“We have made taxes fairer by asking the wealthiest 2 percent to pay more of their income in taxes. We did not raise income taxes on the other 98 percent of Minnesotans, and we took that money and invested most of it in education.
“That means over $1 billion in additional investments in education over the last three years, which led to early-childhood education services, all-day kindergarten starting next fall, tuition freezes at the University of Minnesota and the [Minnesota State Colleges and Universities] campuses, and a per-pupil formula aid increase, which has been long overdue for school districts that have been underfunded for years. Education is the key to our future success, and I think the news last week on [graduation] rate improvements show we are on the right track.”
Dayton on his biggest regret in his first term as governor:
“Well, MNsure. I would certainly like to go back to the drawing boards with the benefit of this experience and go back and get a different group of consultants that could come up with a better and more successful package. But Hillary Clinton says, ‘There are no do-overs in life,’ so we are making the best with what we have now.”
Dayton on his re-election chances:
“My campaign theme was ‘A Better Minnesota,’ and I think Minnesota is better today than it was three years ago. We have 120,000 more people working today than we did three years ago, we have education investments I talked about, property tax relief. But Minnesotans will decide for themselves at that point next November whether the direction we as the state are headed and where we continue to go, if they think it’s best for themselves and their families.
“Or whether it looks like another re-warmed-up version of the same policies that have been operating in the state for the previous eight years, if we go back to that somehow and get better results. That’s the debate we are going to have over the next summer and fall. I look forward to that.”
Dayton on campaign attacks:
“It will be challenging and there will be — unfortunately — a great deal of negativity. The independent expenditure groups can come in and spend unlimited money without disclosing their sources and run whatever kind of vile trash they decide to without any consequences. I expect it will be ugly and very difficult and challenging, but that’s the nature of the process, and I’m prepared for that. It’s the last time I will be seeking re-election, so I’m going to give it all I got. I have a terrific running mate in Tina Smith. She is already traveling around the state actively and will continue to do so, and the more people get to know her, the more they will like her and feel even better about our ticket.”