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

A look at the issues Dayton ran on in 2010 — and where those campaign promises stand today.

Gov. Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor

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.

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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.