Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, Thursday issued a passionate defense of public employees in the wake of Republican proposals to freeze their pay or cut their numbers.

The Democratic governor said the proposals "exploit the opportunity" to drive wedges between Minnesotans, demonize public employees and suggested they show a lack of understanding and care.

"Most state employees, most public employees, most teachers are extraordinarily dedicated, hard working people, who are striving to make ends meet for their families...just as people in the private sector are," Dayton said.

The governor addressed a bill that would freeze teacher pay and limit teachers' ability to strike as well as a measure to cut 15 percent of  the state workforce. 

"The myth that there's been this explosion of (the numbers of) public employees in Minnesota is just that," Dayton said. "In a difficult economic time, some people exploit the opportunity to try to drive wedges between Minnesotans."

He said: "I wish the legislators would take the time and the care to really understand these issues and the complexity and to hold public hearings and allow for public input on all sides of the question and then present something that really reflects a caring and concern for the well being of all Minnesotans." 

The governor condemned Rep. Keith Downey's words that he wanted to strangle the beast" of public worker rolls. Downey, R-Edina, proposed the state workforce cut, which breezed through a House committee Wednesday.

"I'm really shocked," Dayton said. "Government is not a beast. Public servants are not beasts. They are fellow citizens...To demonize people who are,in most respects. hard working committed people is very unfair and unnecessarily divisive."