An accusatory memo, harsh words, impugned motives, an angry walkout — all would be par for the State Capitol course between a governor and a legislative leader of the opposite party in the final days of a legislative session. But three weeks after an election, over the art in the governor’s office?
Tuesday’s spat between Gov. Mark Dayton and Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, over whether to continue to display six paintings of Civil War scenes — four in the Governor’s Reception Room, two in its anteroom — was a disheartening show. It was made worse by a sense that it may be a sign of things to come between the DFL governor and the new Republican majorities in the 2017 Legislature.
Like so many partisan quarrels at the Capitol in recent years, Tuesday’s seemed as if it could be resolved with a simple compromise. Dayton seems right to urge that the much-used reception room include art “more broadly representative of the state’s history,” as he wrote in an Oct. 27 letter. Dean and his allies are also right when they note that Minnesota’s contributions to the Civil War were significant events in early state history and ought not be completely removed.
Six such paintings might be too many. Two or three — particularly those depicting the heroic sacrifice of the First Minnesota regiment at Gettysburg and the Fourth Minnesota at Vicksburg — seem about right. Massing the Capitol’s considerable additional Civil War art and memorabilia in a unified, well-interpreted display also would have merit.
Dayton, who walked out of a State Capitol Preservation Commission meeting in a huff Tuesday, said he was dismayed that the art kerfuffle was distracting attention from urgent efforts to reduce costs for health insurance buyers in the individual market. We too wish that effort had a bigger head of steam, and that Dean — a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2018 and a health policy leader in the House — would be a more effective agent of compromise. But we doubt that Dayton’s histrionics will make it so.
And we’re glad that as things stand, the Minnesota Historical Society — and not politicians — has the last word on Capitol art. May it please stay that way.