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Dayton versus GOP: State of the State provides campaign 2014 preview

Dayton touts education and construction, including Vikings stadium; GOP criticizes taxes, MNsure, Senate Office Building and the guv’s wish to reduce standardized tests.

The governor called for legislators to make transportation funding a top priority next session.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

This was not so much a State of the State address delivered by Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday night as it was a long outline as to the upcoming campaign.

You could tell by the standing ovations where the lines will be drawn in the governor’s race — as well as legislative races.

The unofficial tally showed DFL legislators rose to their feet and cheered on eight occasions. They were joined only once by their Republican peers.

The universal standing O came when the governor spoke of how well the state’s fourth graders ranked on national tests. Fourth graders tested No. 1 in the nation in math, and the achievement gap between white and minority students was cut by 10 points. 

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It’s pretty safe and sound politics to give ovations to high-performing school kids.

More interestingly, was when DFLers stood and cheered, sometimes with gusto, and their Republican counterparts sat silent.

Dayton credited DFL “investment’’ policies with Minnesota having the fifth-fastest growing economy in the country.

DFLers were up and applauding. Republicans were silent.

Dayton called for a $1.2 billion bonding bill “because I’m for jobs.’’

DFLers up, Republicans seated.

Dayton called for funding for free lunches. “No child should be shamed because parents can’t afford lunch.’’

DFLers up, Republicans down.

The governor called for legislators to make transportation funding a top priority next session.

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DFLers up, Republicans down.

The governor admitted “MNsure didn’t start well’’ (that’s an understatement) but then embraced both MNsure and the federal Affordable Care Act.

DFLers up, Republicans down.

He praised the legislature’s passage of “marriage equality’’ last session.

DFLers up and proudly roaring. Republicans silent.

Dayton praised the raising the minimum wage, though added it’s still too small to pull people out of poverty.

DFLers wildly cheering. Republicans totally silent.

Dayton said that by 2018 “all 3- and 4-year-olds in Minnesota will have access to quality, affordable early childhood education.’’

DFLers up, Republicans down.

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So, in a 47-minute speech, Dayton laid out how he — and DFL legislators — would like to see the upcoming campaigns play out.

A couple of times, Dayton even took on issues that he must know could prove to be a weakness for him in the campaign ahead.

For example, he not only took ownership of the controversial Vikings’ stadium,  embraced it.

“There would not be a new stadium under construction in Minneapolis without the financial support of the city and the state of Minnesota,’’ he proclaimed. “7,500 construction workers will have jobs building that stadium over the next couple years. Over one-third of them will be people of color.’’

He added that the stadium has led to the $400 million “private sector development’’ by Wells Fargo being built presumably because of the stadium.

DFLers applauded, but didn’t stand. Republicans sat silent.

Not surprisingly, Republicans had a vastly different view of the state of the state. Not only did Senate minority leader David Hann and House minority leader Kurt Daudt rip the speech and the DFL philosophy of spending (DFLers use the term “investing’’), a trio of GOP gubernatorial candidates — Sen. Dave Thompson, Rep. Kurt Zellars and former House member Marty Seifert — took post-speech shots, too.

All said essentially the same thing. DFL tax policies are driving businesses and jobs out of the state.

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Thompson went so far as to say he sees “economic clouds on the horizon.’’

It was Seifert, however, who made the most interesting post-speech comments. He talked about how “60 to 70 per cent’’ of the statistics Dayton used to bolster his points, likely would have been used by a GOP governor.

It was a valid point. Any governor can turn to any commissioner to come up with stats that support the policies they espouse. 

It was clear from post-speech comments by the GOP that “Obamacare’’ and “MNsure’’ are going to be campaign issues. All sorts of numbers are going to be flying out of each campaign about whether people are better, or worse off, on the health care front.

Several of the Republicans noted that Dayton made no mention of the Senate office building that’s going to be constructed. Obviously,  they mean to make that $77 million project a campaign issue.

Education issues also are going to be prominent in the upcoming months. Some of those issues will be subtle.

For example, Dayton seems to sense a growing tide of opposition to the amount of testing that’s being conducted in schools across the state. He wants the Department of Education to come up with a plan that would eliminate some of the testing.

“Many children come to school terrified on test days, then go home demoralized,’’ he said. “What purpose does it serve to send a third-grader home believing she has failed life, because she may have performed poorly on a test?’’

The GOP viewpoint is strikingly different. Tests, they believe, show if the state is getting value for the money being put into schools. 

Daudt drew the clearest line in the sand on criticism that testing is creating too much anxiety and taking away from learning time.

“We’ve got the best teachers in the country,’’ Daudt said. “We need to push our students harder.’’

Surprisingly, some in the GOP were critical that Dayton’s speech came so late in the session. The State of the State message typically is given at the start of the session, not as it’s about to wrap up.

But Dayton was still in painful recovery from back surgery, thus the long postponement.  That he’s still in recovery mode was obvious from the outset. Typically, governors make a triumphant walk, amid pomp, ceremony, handshaking and backslapping, down the center aisle of the House chamber as they go to the lectern for their speech.

On this occasion, Dayton entered from the rear of the chamber, avoiding the long, ceremonial walk and the glad-handing that goes with it.

The late date did change the tenor of the speech. Typically, the address is supposed to set the tone for the upcoming session.

Other than bonding — Dayton wants $1.2 billion, the Republicans insist they had a handshake deal from last year calling for an $850 million bonding lid — this session is virtually history. 

Dayton was even talking about what should happen in 2015.

“He spent a lot of time talking about next year,’’ said Hann. “We don’t know who’s going to be governor next year.’’

On this night of standing ovations, how many times did Daudt stand for this governor.

“Once,’’ said Daudt. “When he came in.’’