Promises, promises: revisiting Mark Dayton’s 2010 campaign pledges

Office of the Governor
Gov. Mark Dayton

We’re used to scoffing at politicians because they’re so often quick to forget their campaign promises. Not so with Mark Dayton. Like him or not — and there are plenty of those who do not — the first DFL governor to win election since 1986 did do much of what he said he’d do during his 2010 campaign.

He got a lot of help, of course. First and foremost, he was aided by an improving economy. But what Dayton probably didn’t know in 2010 is how much help he’d get from unexpected sources — like the Republican Party, which sometimes seemed intent on sabotaging itself during the governor’s first term. In 2011, for example, polls consistently showed that GOP legislators took the bulk of the blame for the government shutdown. They followed that with a sex scandal and by pushing two amendments that would go on to be rejected by Minnesota voters. The result was the loss of both the House and Senate in 2012, which allowed Dayton a much easier road to start fulfilling his campaign promises. 

Here, a look at the issues Dayton campaigned on in 2010, and where those pledges stand today:

The issue:Income taxes
The main thrust of Dayton campaign four years ago was that he would “tax the rich.” 
The outcome: He did raise taxes on the wealthiest, though it took him two years longer than he wanted, and the fourth tier income tax bracket didn’t nick as many Minnesotans as Dayton initially wanted.
The issue:School funding
In campaign speeches across Minnesota four years ago, Dayton said he would increase funding for K-12 education, and that he would fund all-day kindergarten.
The outcome: The pledges on K-12 education and full-day kindergarten have become reality. But when it comes to the seven-point education plan he unveiled in the opening weeks of his term, a plan that focused on early childhood education and closing the learning disparities gap, he’s batting about only .500.
The issue:Jobs
In 2010, Dayton pledged to be “a jobs governor” and to spur job growth, especially in a construction industry hit hard by the recession, and Dayton did pushed for large bonding bills. Though he didn’t get all that he wanted in bonding, he did get funds for such regional centers as Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester. (Dayton’s predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, had vetoed bonding for civic center improvements in those cities.) 
The outcome: Overall, the unemployment rate in the state has dropped from 7 percent to 4.1 percent since the 2010 election, though Dayton’s critics claim that if Minnesota was more “business friendly,’’ the unemployment rate would be even lower.
The issue:Property taxes

On the campaign trail, Dayton pushed hard on property tax relief, claiming Pawlenty’s cuts had passed costs down to local levels of government. In 2013, Democrats (including Dayton, of course) increased Local Government Aid by $80 million, which was supposed to help keep local governments from raising property taxes.

The outcome: In 2014, according to the state Department of Revenue, tax levies were down or flat in 29 Minnesota counties, up in 58 counties. Among cities, 470 have increased tax levies in 2014, while 378 cities have cut or kept their levies flat.
The issue:Health care
Dayton has not been a huge fan of the Affordable Care Act, seeing it as only a step toward a single payer system, which he favors. But his main goal as a candidate was to make affordable health care coverage available to more Minnesotans. 
The outcome: Despite the shaky MNsure start-up and the cracks that remain in its foundation, a U of Minnesota study shows the number of uninsured in the state has fallen by 180,000.
The issue:Broadband access
As a candidate, Dayton vowed to open broadband access to all corners of the state. Within weeks of taking office, he appointed (ho hum) a task force to study the broad band gaps. Progress has not exactly been high speed.
The outcome: In 2010, about 38 percent of the state’s residents did not have access to broadband. Four years later, 25 percent still are without access to a technology vital to keeping up with the rest of the country. Minnesota, according to Dayton’s own task force, ranks only 23rd in the nation in terms of broadband access, a long distance from the top five ranking the state aspires to, and Dayton’s budget proposals have been tepid regarding broadband.
The issue:Cigarette tax
During the 2010 campaign, Dayton said he would oppose increasing taxes on cigarettes, because such a tax would be regressive. 
The outcome: This is probably the most conspicuous example of Dayton flip-flopping on an issue. In 2013, he changed his position and supported a whopping $1.60 per pack tax increase on cigarettes. He said he’d changed his mind after talks with his Department of Health commissioner, who convinced him that price is a big factor in discouraging young people from getting hooked.

Governors aren’t only defined by what they run on, of course, and there were a host of big issues Dayton didn’t talk about in 2010 that he was either forced to address  — or sidestep.

The environment falls into the latter category. When GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson says that Dayton “is beholden to some pretty extreme environmental groups,’’ it may say more about Johnson than it does Dayton. In fact, Dayton has made few environmental initiatives. Much to the chagrin of people on both sides of the issues, he’s still waiting for more environmental impact statements on both the Polymet mining project and the Sandpiper oil pipeline before he’ll take a position. 

Guns is another issue where Dayton hasn’t engaged. In fact, the gun-owning Dayton has done nothing to provoke the NRA, though he may have provoked pheasants by following through on a campaign pledge “to have a governor’s pheasant opener.”   

On social issues, Dayton was in the parade — but not a leader — in the most profound cultural event of the last four years: the legalization of gay marriage. Though in his campaign Dayton made it clear that he supported gay marriage — and though he was outspoken in his opposition to the 2012 constitutional amendment that would have limited marriage to a man and a woman — Dayton was not pushing for legalization of same sex marriage when the 2013 legislative session opened.

Following the defeat of the marriage amendment, Dayton and legislative leaders Tom Bakk and Paul Thissen indicated they thought it was too soon for the legislature to take on the issue. “We need a statewide conversation’’ before moving to take on gay marriage, the leadership said. In the end, legislators such as Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Karen Clark are the ones who led the effort.

What has seemed to separate Dayton from many politicians, however, is his willingness — even, at times, his seeming eagerness — to take on unpopular issues. Perhaps nothing illustrates that quality more than the Dayton’s actions around the Vikings stadium. Polls showed that few issues are so unpopular with Minnesotans as public funding for a new home for the NFL team.

In the 2010 election, Emmer took the popular position: He swore his allegiance to the team, and while as governor he’d find ways to help the team figure out how to build a stadium, he said he would not support a public subsidy.  

Dayton was clear in the campaign about what he’d do if elected. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio in 2009, he said: “The Vikings and Mr. Wilf do not need Minnesota. They can move to LA to a privately built stadium.  … If we build a stadium, we’ll build it for the people Minnesota because it’s in the best interest of Minnesota.’’

Three things to note on the stadium deal: The initial funding source (remember electronic pull-tabs?) was something of a farce, producing a fraction of the revenue promised; Los Angeles still has not built that oft-mentioned private stadium and, to date, there are a lot of Minnesotans who don’t seem to think the stadium is in their best interest.

But the governor did exactly what he said he’d do. 

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Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/17/2014 - 12:15 pm.

    Of Course We Could Compare Gov. Dayton’s Positive Record

    on promises to Govs. Walker in Wisconsin and Brownback in Kansas,…

    both states where the conservative experiment has proven a DISMAL failure,…

    but nothing we can say would enter the awareness of those who “truly believe” that Walker and Brownback are far superior Govs…

    despite the factual reality that their campaign promises have largely blown up in their faces,…

    and the people of their states are far WORSE off than when they took office,…

    except, of course, for the richest of the rich.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/17/2014 - 12:35 pm.


    Did the alliance for a better MN write this article? Oh, I am sorry, they only do negative adds.

  3. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 10/17/2014 - 12:59 pm.

    Promises Made;promises kept

    Impressive and atypical record of accomplishment. Thank you Governor Dayton for keeping your word!

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/17/2014 - 02:03 pm.

    Oh…censored. I guess I’ll just stand over here and shake my pom-poms. Goooo Mark!

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/17/2014 - 02:55 pm.

    Grow up, boys…

    I believe the appropriate cliche is “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” ‘Twould appear that, while the article is certainly one-sided, it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.

    The point of the piece is *not* to provide an answer to the question, “Is Mark Dayton a ‘good’ Governor?” The point of the piece is to address a very different question: “Did Dayton follow through on his campaign promises? The answer to that second question seems to be: For the most part, yes, but not entirely.

    Instead of snark, I’d like to see Messrs. Gotzman and Swift present some counterarguments that address the focus of the article. They might be of interest.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/17/2014 - 03:08 pm.

      You’ll Be Disappointed, Ray

      Because, as you can see from the responses they’ve already posted,…

      they got NOTHIN’ (of substance, facts, statistics, reality, etc.).

  6. Submitted by Nancy Hassett on 10/17/2014 - 03:05 pm.

    Doug Grow…Really???

    This article tries like mad to put a negative spin on Dayton’s achievements vs promises. We all know because of checks & balances no candidate ever achieves everything they say they will. Couldn’t believe it when I saw it was written by Mr. Grow. Is he leaning right in his old age?

  7. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 10/17/2014 - 03:36 pm.

    Tobacco tax flip-flop

    Gov. Dayton agreed to this tax to cover for the failed e-pulltabs revenue stream to fund the stadium. Imagine that – a regressive tax to further help millionaires and billionaires attain more wealth!

  8. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 10/17/2014 - 05:45 pm.

    I’m curious…

    why Governor Dayton considers an increase in cigarette taxes to be regressive?

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 10/17/2014 - 09:05 pm.

      Because the demographics of smoking

      shown on table 2-8 of this report:

      Shows that lower income people are more likely to smoke than those of higher incomes

      And lower income folks will pay more of the tax then it is regressive.

      Another look can be seen here on the CDC web site.

      In general there is a strong correlation between education and income level, and this data shows that there is a strong correlation between education level and smoking. While the transitivity properties of equalities can not always be applied the first data set suggests that in this case it might be appropriate.

      • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 10/18/2014 - 08:28 am.


        Thanks for the explanation but smoking is a choice. The lower income 2 pack per day smoker would have about one hundred dollars per week more in his/her pocket if they didn’t smoke. It’s their choice.

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/20/2014 - 07:23 am.


          Also raising the tax on smokes makes them less attractive, which leads to less smoking. Considering the high cost of health care for smokers, they’ll come out ahead in the long run if they simply stop smoking.

        • Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 10/24/2014 - 12:54 pm.

          Yes, it is to some extent ” a choice.”

          But It’s also highly addictive thus diluting the ability to rationally choose. As a former 20 pack year smoker, I can assure you that it is addictive and critically harmful to your health.

  9. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 10/17/2014 - 08:00 pm.

    I cannot forgive this one

    I voted for Governor Dayton and in the past voted for and liked him as our Senator. I was never a resident of Minneapolis but I liked Rybak. The unbelievable dishonesty and legal trickery to get the new Vikings stadium is unforgivable. Every part of the process was suspect. People always say to get over it. My question back is, if entering the people you represent into a $500,000,000 fraud with a criminal isn’t bad enough to get worked up over, what is?

    • Submitted by Paul Rider on 10/18/2014 - 08:06 am.

      Totally agree with you on this…

      Which is why Dayton is not getting my vote this time around. I’m glad that the people working on the stadium have jobs. And the structure is pretty darn impressive. But using public tax dollars to give private enterprise a place to play while that private enterprise ends up paying nothing and making millions is an outrage and deeply disturbing. The People’s Stadium? Great. When will I be able to use the stadium I’m paying for, without having to pay more to get inside? Free enterprise is no longer free when tax dollars are hijacked to pay for it!

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/18/2014 - 09:09 am.


      One’s displeasure over a single issue to cause one to not support said candidates over conservatives who would by definition destroy everything else you claim to support. That might get ME riled up. But hey, I’m not a single issue voter.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/18/2014 - 11:06 pm.


        Maybe these disgruntled Democrats will vote for Hannah…

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/19/2014 - 08:52 am.


          Ms. Nicollett has as much chance of winning as I do.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 10/20/2014 - 06:45 am.


            While standing in front of that oval on election day, reality tends to creep in as to what the actual benefit is of voting for someone who can’t win. This is an ideological war… and if you’re interested in helping the poor, women’s rights and continuing to strengthen the economy of this state, what currently passes for conservatism these days must be eradicated like a mold growing in your shower. Make no mistake, the GOP would love nothing better than to turn this state into Wisconsin, Kansas or South Carolina.

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 10/20/2014 - 04:58 am.


      Thank you for a well stated post.

  10. Submitted by Matt Drew on 10/17/2014 - 10:43 pm.

    Oh, so a well known liberal writes a fawning article, lauding the accomplishments of a a guy he voted for? I’m shocked. It’s gotta be nice having a media full of accomplices singing your praises. I’m sure he’d have written the same article had Emmer beaten Dayton. What a joke.

  11. Submitted by John Appelen on 10/18/2014 - 06:28 pm.


    Maybe they will vote Independent.

  12. Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/19/2014 - 09:16 am.

    Dayton’s done OK in his list & We’re not in Kansas, Toto…

    Governor Dayton was elected on his promises – he won.
    By & large his term has been successful & decent for the state. Isn’t that the gist of the conclusion?

    One of the posts above mentions Brownback, who ran on a platform similar to Emmer’s message. There is a group of REPUBLICANS in Kansas seeking to get Governor Brownback’s Democratic opponent elected, they are so seriously unhappy with what they got in Kansas.

    Candidate Mz Nicollet, is touted as a “software developer.”
    In the first debate she spoke to internet access in the state & had said it was “adequate.”

    People outstate might differ on that, but it should be noted that the points above & her comments do not jibe as well as they might.

    On stadiums:
    Everybody knows that the stadium would be built. No matter the party in power, after all lot of hemming & hawing, the team was going to get pretty much what it wanted on a subsidy. Anything to the contrary was just empty pre-election promises by the GOP candidate seeking to capitalize on Dayton taking a controversial stand.

  13. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 10/20/2014 - 10:06 am.

    Still not getting my vote

    Fair article but Dayton will still not get my vote for many reasons. I am a conservative at heart and won’t vote for Dayton or Nicollett. I’ve only begun looking at all the facts and so far I’m on board with Johnsons ideas and plans.

    • Submitted by Joey Senkyr on 10/21/2014 - 01:20 pm.

      Why bother?

      Why even bother wasting your time looking at the facts, if you’ve already blindly decided that you’re not voting for two of the three candidates based solely on an ideological label?

      • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 10/21/2014 - 03:13 pm.


        Apparently you didn’t even read my comment before you replied. My decision was not based solely on an ideological label. I never said it was. Quit trying to make something out of nothing.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/21/2014 - 03:33 pm.


          I agree that Joey must not have read your comment.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 10/21/2014 - 04:08 pm.

            I read it

            and Joey makes a legitimate criticism of it. First, Joe states that he won’t vote for Dayton for a number of reasons, none of which he mentions. Then he states that he’s a conservative at heart and won’t vote for Dayton or Nicollet, but at the same time states that he’s just begun looking at the facts and is on board with Johnson and his “ideas.” It’s nothing but gobbledygook, but I’m not surprised that you understand and defend it.

  14. Submitted by John Appelen on 10/22/2014 - 04:49 pm.


    I would love to comment and question, however nothing is getting through…

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