A Q&A session with Gov. Mark Dayton makes clear — as do his actions — where he stands on the outdoors: “It’s one reason people love this state and stay here,” he said.
Q: You seem to have an understanding of the importance to Minnesotans of nature, the outdoors and outdoor activities. How did that develop?
A: My grandfather bought a cabin and 170 acres in 1930 on Lake Vermilion for $5,000. When I was a kid, my family would go up there a couple weekends each summer, and my father would take us fishing. As it turned out, my father didn’t know anything about catching fish. But I didn’t know that until I was about 21 years old. It wasn’t until I got to fish with (former state senator) Doug Johnson (of Cook, Minn.) that I actually had some luck on Lake Vermilion.
Q: Is the cabin still in the family?
A: Yes, though it’s been put in a land trust, so it will transition out of the family in the next decade or so. But I have wonderful memories of time spent there.
Q: You’ve said that you hunted waterfowl also when you were a kid.
A: Yes. I remember my dad driving us down to Heron Lake in southwest Minnesota to hunt ducks. When I can, I still like to get out. In 1996, for example, I traveled to Alaska with my son Eric and Will Steger.
Q: What’s your understanding of the importance of the outdoors and outdoors stewardship among Minnesotans?
A: I think it’s an essential ingredient of the unique nature of Minnesotans. Even those of us connected with the city enjoy the outdoors, and take advantage of the incredible opportunities available in our state, particularly our lakes. We talk about the quality of life enjoyed by Minnesotans, and the outdoors is a major part of it. It’s one reason people love this state and stay here.
Q: As was apparent in the just concluded legislative session, the outdoors and politics often mix in Minnesota. When you campaigned for the governor’s office, you seemed to appeal often and directly to hunters and anglers for their vote. Is that constituency important to you politically?
A: Absolutely, and my appreciation of that constituency comes from growing up here. I’m proud to be the governor who began the Governor’s Pheasant Opener in the state, just like we have a Governor’s Fishing Opener and Governor’s Deer Opener. This year our Pheasant Opener will be in Madelia. (Congressman) Collin Peterson was actually the one who encouraged me to launch the Pheasant Opener.
Q: In the past session, you sided with the Legacy Act habitat recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, breaking, as you did, an agreement over Legacy funding that you had reached with legislative leaders.
A: Yes I did. I had been aware throughout the session, and really since my campaign, of my promise to hunters and anglers that I would support the recommendations of the council, and oppose attempts by the Legislature to challenge the council’s authority.
Throughout the session, in regular meetings with legislative leaders, I expressed that position. I made the point on more than one occasion. That said, I didn’t try to interfere during the session, rather allowing the House and the Senate to determine their own directions. As you know, the Senate stuck with the position of the council, but the House had its own mind about things. I had hoped the House would work out its differences with the council amicably. But it didn’t.
My belief is that when the Legacy Act was approved by voters in 2008, the notion that a citizen-dominated council would advise the Legislature on the habitat recommendations was critical to its passage. So I have respected and supported the voters in that respect. Look, some members of the House at one point wanted to change the name of the council and its composition, giving more positions to legislators. That was a very bad start to the session, and it created a lot of concern among supporters of the council and the Legacy Act’s habitat funds.
People have faith in the council process, and rely on it. And I wanted to support it.
Q: The counter-argument made by some in the House is that only the Legislature can spend the state’s money.
A: True. But again, if you asked Minnesotans who voted for the amendment who they thought, at the time, would be in charge of the wildlife habitat money, I would guess that 90-plus percent of them would say “the people,’’ as opposed to the Legislature. There’s no question the Legislature is the only entity that can appropriate state money. But in this case the spirit of the amendment was that citizens, through a citizen-dominated council, would play a key role. The amendment wouldn’t have passed otherwise. So in the spirit of that accomplishment, there has to be a cooperative working relationship between the council and the Legislature.
Q: Regarding conservation in general, you have talked at various times about “reinventing’’ state government. Have you given thought to reconsidering the way conservation is delivered in Minnesota, including rethinking, perhaps, the workings of the DNR and other state agencies?
A: I would like to do that. In fact, I will be proposing to the Legislature that we have — perhaps not until the 2015 session, if I’m still around — an “un-session,’’ during which we would focus almost exclusively on streamlining government.
I had this idea back in 1998, during a campaign that most people have forgotten, and I would like to forget myself, because I lost. But I think it has merit, because government has become so cumbersome it’s almost impossible to proceed with anything. If we looked at this closely, by undertaking a comprehensive review of how we manage conservation and our natural resources, perhaps we could make improvements. This might especially be true in natural resource management, in which we have so many various jurisdictions — the DNR, the Pollution Control Agency, local watershed groups, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, and so on, as well as federal agencies.
Q: On another subject, Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis has made the point repeatedly that the Lessard-Sams council has a bias against the metro in its funding recommendations.
A: This is my 13th legislative session, and the issue has arisen each time. It doesn’t matter if the subject is conservation or roads or public transit. There always seems to be a split between metro legislators and those who represent Minnesotans living outside the metro.
I don’t think the divide exists to a great deal among Minnesotans in general. Many people who live in or around the Twin Cities grew up in small towns of the state, and they, along with many other Minnesotans, often travel to Greater Minnesota to fish and hunt and so forth.
Still, in the Legislature, there always seems to be a “they’re getting more than we are’’ attitude among some members. I just didn’t agree that it was the case this session, regarding metro parks, which had appealed to the Lessard-Sams council for a funding recommendation but was turned down. I believe metro parks got some $64 million in funding through Legacy and other money. So it’s not as if we left them out. But the divide, it seems, remains, and will be there long after I’ve left office.
Q: Missing in the argument over funding of metro parks from the Outdoor Heritage fund, overseen by the council, was the fundamental notion that Legacy Act habitat money never was intended to be scattered around the state, based on where the most people live. Instead, the money was, and is, intended to improve the state’s lands and waters in a comprehensive way over the long term, according to a thoughtful 25-year plan, which the council has written.
A: I think it will be a necessity of increasing importance to show results for all parts of Legacy spending. Not just the outdoors money. But the arts, parks and trails, all of it. People will want to know results; what their money has achieved. So, what’s the master plan? What are we trying to accomplish here?
I’m concerned about this particularly in the water-quality area. A lot of the Clean Water money seems to be going to study this and study that. We need to clean things up. The condition of White Bear Lake is just one example. Multiply that by all the projects throughout the state, and people will want to know. What did the money add up to? The answer to that question will determine the success of the Legacy Act.