Gov. Mark Dayton reassured Minnesota's teacher's union that he would protect their bargaining rights Saturday and simultaneously issued a sharp rebuke of GOP lawmakers in St. Paul.

Dayton was the first sitting governor ever to attend Education Minnesota's annual Representative Convention, which was held at the Bloomington Sheraton. He spent more than 20 minutes addressing the crowd of several hundred teachers, who greeted him with a standing ovation.

The DFL governor opened by saying that he was probably "not going to be everything that you would wish for me to be," but he is better than the "alternative."

"At least in the governor of Wisconsin I’ve finally found an alternative who made even me look good by comparison," Dayton said.

He had some harsh words for Republicans in the Legislature who are trying to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers and freeze wages.

“I’ve never seen an onslaught and I’ve never seen an assault against good Minnesotans as I’ve seen in this legislative process so far," Dayton said.

Dayton accused Republican majorities of trying to emulate the "economic Darwinism" of the 18th century, which he described as a "free for all" without taxes or government.

“Our collective challenge and opportunity is to innovate and make [Minnesota] better…It’s not about this kind of assault on the basic rights of working men and women. It’s not about taking collective bargaining away. It will not happen as I’m governor.”

Dayton said many teachers have already accepted pay freezes in some form.

“To put an arbitrary freeze into [legislation], by the Legislature, just says those of you who’ve already made a commitment are going to be punished, are going to be penalized," Dayton said. "And how are we going to have any kind of reasonable collective bargaining process over wages in the future if people have to be afraid every year that next year they’re going to be penalized for stepping up and doing what’s necessary?"

The governor said Minnesota's pension system is "sound" and then criticized the GOP for indirectly raising property taxes through budget cuts.

“There are people in St. Paul who are in denial about the property tax being a tax," Dayton said. "Anybody pay property tax with a different checkbook than you pay your income taxes?”

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