Facing four final years to secure his standing in Minnesota’s history books, Gov. Mark Dayton heads into the legislative session with an ambitious agenda — and plans to tell it like it is.
The DFL governor will be sworn in for a second term Monday, after his decisive re-election in November. But, after two years of Democrats running state government, Dayton and the Senate DFL must share power with a new Republican House majority with very different goals.
Dayton, 67, has made it clear he won’t run for office again. In an interview with the Star Tribune, the governor said he’s experimenting with a new, blunter approach — even with political allies.
Dayton said he told the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ faculty union that they’d done “serious damage” in a public dispute with Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.
“That’s 7,000 union members. Four months ago, I would have had to worry about 7,000 people who’d hopefully support me, and the effect of that,” Dayton said. “One of them said to me, ‘We voted for you.’ But I’m unbound from that consideration or concern. I’m free.”
How that unleashed style plays out with 201 state lawmakers, particularly the new House majority, is a defining question of the session. Dayton has set ambitious goals, seeking major spending boosts to the state’s transportation system and schools.
When Dayton first took office in 2011, Minnesota faced a nearly $6 billion budget deficit, and a standoff with Republican lawmakers led to a 21-day state government shutdown.
This year, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus. In addition, Dayton said he thinks the next state economic forecast in February is likely to plump up that surplus by another couple hundred million dollars.
Dayton said he’s willing to revisit a major debate of last year: the new medical marijuana program, starting up in July. Dayton said he might support expanding the list of eligible patients, along with a beefed-up distribution network that would give patients in isolated areas a shorter drive to access treatment.
Dayton said he would not support repealing the recent minimum wage increase, a goal of some Republicans. He said he would sign a bill to move Minnesota’s current August primary to June.
While he’s ready to retool his style, Dayton said he hopes to be judged by his results.
“I’m going to call them as I see them,” Dayton said. “But my mother always said that actions speak louder than words.”