It's been more than two years since Mark Dayton left the United States Senate and simply walked back into private life as just another Minnesota citizen. Now, if you believe that scenario, let me tell you the one about how this country has been saved from economic Armageddon by the generosity of Wall Street bankers.
What, you ask very perceptively, does this recession/depression have to do with Mark Dayton? Well, he may be Minnesota's next governor and that possibility brings as much discomfort to the financial/business community as they've given to us over the past year. Shortly after he left the U.S. Senate, Dayton announced that he was going to run for Governor of Minnesota in 2010. I don't know if my old friend is going to win or even come close, but judging by what he has done in his first public "out of the box" statements, he is not going to be just another pretty face in the candidate lineup. If big business thought Dayton was too liberal as an officeholder in the past, it looks like that would be nothing compared to what he would want to do as governor.
Here is what I am seeing: Dayton is setting out earlier and faster than he has in any of his past election campaigns to gain the support of a large and growing segment of Minnesota voters. His target group is comprised of the young, left of center, non-traditional, non-party-affiliated voters who put Barack Obama in the White House.
In a mailing he sent out last week to those identified as "progressive" voters, Dayton outlined why he was running. In uncustomary strong, virulent language for a political campaign, Dayton says that he left the Senate after one term because individuals he termed as "turncoat" Democrats controlled the Democratic leadership. Dayton blames these "turncoat" Democrats for "…stripping important education and health care funding…" out of the Obama stimulus program in order to gain Republican support for passage in the Senate.
Wow!! Calling former fellow Democratic U.S. Senate colleagues "turncoats" is tantamount to telling "short" jokes to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Nevertheless, it's also sending a very clear signal to the two-dozen or so announced and unannounced DFL gubernatorial candidates-in-waiting that the starter's gun for the 2010 campaign has already been fired. Dayton is telegraphing a very clear signal that he is setting out to pickup the dropped mantle of liberalism that fell from Paul Wellstone's shoulders in that plane crash more than six years ago. I am confident that Minnesotans, and those of us in the "chattering class," will come to see Dayton as the most outspoken progressive candidate for Minnesota governor since Floyd B. Olson's successful 1930 campaign as a Farmer-Laborite. Don't pooh-pooh the early, two years from Election Day, name-calling strategy that Dayton is engaging in, even with members of his own party. Dayton is tapping the depths of anger in Minnesota's younger people who vote without regard to party labels, endorsements or any of the regular trappings of the "old politics."
With the field of candidates growing almost hourly, the biggest challenge they each face is to stand out in the crowd and stand for something that isn't the "same ol, same ol." Dayton is striving to be the candidate of progressives, a label most DFLers have run away from since 1966. His heart and soul are progressive and he believes that the DFL has played it too careful for too long on the basic principles of progressive politics that are the historic birthright of the party.
If he does capture the sane, dissatisfied left and he is successful in the election, he'll be the first DFL Governor in Minnesota since his friend and mentor, the late Rudy Perpich was elected in 1986, almost 22 years ago.
That's a long, long drought.