Gov. Mark Dayton is coming off a string of political victories.
The DFL-controlled Legislature helped him deliver on his pledge to raise taxes on high earners and balance the budget in a way that they argue will help ensure longtime financial stability.
But Dayton said he is pessimistic when looking out over the national political and economic horizon.
The nation faces an aging population and soaring health care costs, global economic instability and relentless financial pressure on the middle class.
“I think it’s going to be a very tough 20 years,” Dayton said in an interview with the Star Tribune.
He said the nature of democracy dictates that no one gets everything they want, even with one-party control at the Capitol.
It is increasingly difficult for governors and leaders in Washington to embrace difficult solutions to big problems in the face of an often fickle and restless electorate, Dayton said.
“People want to see progress, and they want to see progress as it affects their life directly,” Dayton said. “And if they don’t, they are going to want to try someone else.”
Dayton said he wants to spend more time overhauling the inner workings of state government. He is beginning to amplify a criticism that he had when he took office: that cumbersome permitting and other obstacles “bogs everything down.”
“I vacillate every day from being a liberal to being a libertarian,” Dayton said. “I believe in government, but I want government to work better, to be more efficient, to be more cost-effective.”
Republicans have tried to frame Dayton as a big-government, big-taxing Democrat. But his government streamlining pitch could appeal to independents, who could become a make-or-break factor in his re-election chances. Dayton’s approval among independents has slipped in recent polls.
Republicans and business groups continue hammering on him for not doing more to help businesses and for raising taxes that could stifle the state’s economy.
“I expect it to be challenging, difficult. Democracy is supposed to be that way,” Dayton said. “You get bounced around, sometimes applauded and sometimes whacked.”
Dayton touts significant aid for new economic projects in the new budget as watershed accomplishments, from a dramatic expansion of the Mall of America to the Mayo Clinic’s multibillion-dollar overhaul in Rochester. Officials are months away from breaking ground on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, another major accomplishment.
“When they come to reality, that to me is as good as it gets,” Dayton said. “That’s real.”
Dayton is just starting to think about his re-election strategy, just hiring a new campaign manager to lead the effort. A large field of Republicans is likely to vie for the chance to take him on. Dayton expects that problems and opportunities in coming months will dramatically reshuffle the race. Some of those things he can anticipate, some of those things no one can.