When confronting an engaged, excited audience, there is disagreeable and then there is rude.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton says he found the latter in Shakopee on Monday night.
During one of the “Meetings With Mark” open forums he has held statewide, Dayton stated his belief that lawmakers should get a raise in pay. As he was explaining why, some audience members began heckling and interrupting him, yelling that legislative work is supposed to be part-time.
“Let me just finish,” Dayton interjected, according to videos of the event. “I’ve been all over the state and I’ve never had people behave this rudely. You know, if you want to say something, raise your hand and get a mike.”
That comment set off a kaleidoscope of reactions from Minnesotans. Some were outraged by the governor’s comments, while others despaired of a general lack of civility.
“There were some folks that were being, unfortunately, rude and disrespectful,” said Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke. The mayor said most of the event went just fine, but he did not believe the governor was out of bounds in his description of the unruliness.
“The governor was much nicer than I would have been,” Tabke said.
Linden Zakula, a former spokesman for Democratic candidates who was at the event, said Dayton kept his cool during the long forum.
“He was informative, thoughtful and calm despite being interrupted repeatedly throughout the evening,” said Zakula, director of communications and grass-roots advocacy at the Lockridge Grindal Nauen firm.
Through the event, Zakula said, Dayton was “as straightforward as he always is.”
But Rep. Mike Beard, a Shakopee Republican who sat alongside Dayton during the forum, said the governor’s accusation “was an overreaction” and a surprise.
Beard allowed that those who shouted as the governor spoke may have been a bit disrespectful, and a few questioners made him squirm in their directness.
But, Beard said, “It wasn’t, I would say, rude. I would just say it was an engaged audience.” Although about two-thirds of the audience appeared to be against Dayton’s plans to raise taxes, Beard said it was not the most hostile event he has seen in his six terms at the Capitol.
Asked Tuesday about his comments, Dayton stood by his assessment.
The governor said some members of the audience did not simply disagree, they displayed “very juvenile kind of behavior” that he said reminded him of the ninth-graders he taught in a New York City public school decades ago. Disagreement is fine, the governor said, but the behavior he saw Monday was not.
“It was rude,” Dayton said, “and if they can’t handle the truth, they can’t handle the truth, but that’s the truth as I perceived it.”