Gov. Mark Dayton appeared at the old Star Tribune building on Friday to officiate the transfer of the newspaper's time capsule to the new digs, and I couldn't wait to see if the Old Campaigner would go off the rails.
Dayton can see the end of the first, possibly most important session of his last stint in public office, and he has created a theme in the third person, "Dayton Unbound."
It's the governor's promise to say and do what he means, without the constraints of someone who has to run for office again. In a January interview in which he chastised the state colleges' faculty union, he said that he was "unbound from that consideration or concern. I'm free."
So I half expected Dayton to use the setting of this pseudo-historic moment to perhaps rail against history itself.
Maybe he would quote George Santayana, who said, "History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there."
Or perhaps he'd run wild and turn to Ambrose Bierce: "History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools."
The closest he got was a light joke about the clout of Sid Hartman.
I was so disappointed I wanted to yell: "Play Freebird!"
As he left the building, I asked Dayton how it felt to shake the tether.
"It's good. So far, so good," he said. He then cautioned that he still has more than three years left, and "nobody can take that away from me except the good Lord."
Ever since Dayton put on his swashbuckle, people have talked about the direction of his leadership. It's wise to note that one person's "strong leader" is another person's "bully," usually determined by the aisle that runs down the middle of the room. The question I pose is whether a politician unbridled is a good or a bad thing.
Here we cue the pundits.
"The real question is whether the unbound Dayton can deliver effective and popular results for the public," said Steven Schier, of the political science department at Carleton College. "He is advantaged in this by a booming state economy. It is far from clear, though, that in his unbound state he can work effectively with a GOP state house that has very different priorities from those of the governor. His ambitious liberal agenda will have to be tempered considerably to deliver policy results."
We can turn to recent history to see how that has gone, though none of the circumstances is exactly the same.
Rudy Perpich probably would have wanted to be governor for life, but after he decided not to run for president, he hosted Mikhail Gorbachev to draw world attention to the state, and promoted the Mall of America.
What made him think that would work?
Perpich pushed to bring the Super Bowl to frigid Minnesota and spent $1.2 million to renovate the decrepit governor's residence. Opponents called the renovation lavish, so in a fit of pique, he gave up his Lincoln, his driver and his security.
He sure showed us.
Not all audacity brings results, however. Consider Perpich's notion of building a chopsticks factory in Hibbing. Yeah, he did that.
Gov. Jesse Ventura began on a different trajectory. "Jesse was sui generis, and for him being unbound meant being truculent, which limited his effectiveness," Schier said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty did the unbound deal in reverse.
"Pawlenty pretty much stuck to the GOP policy line as his governorship progressed and his national ambitions increased," said Schier. "That limited his policy impact, given the Democratic legislatures he faced."
So the environmentalist Republican who vowed to end poverty took a turn toward the Tea Party instead. Maybe that was his version of unbound. Unbound from his own values.
"At some point the electoral incentives of lame-duck governors depart from their parties," said David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline. "Carlson and Pawlenty were lame ducks or knew they had different electoral goals and were willing to act in ways that furthered their interests. Dayton is at his career end and in the job I think he always wanted. [He] is putting the state back on the path that Perpich had forged. Perhaps he has only this session before he truly is a lame duck in his last two years. "
We'll see how calling a member of his own party "conniving" [they've apparently hugged it out] and the leader of the opposition party "sincere and reasonable" will work for Dayton, and for the state.
I love it. Then again, the media always loves the politician who goes maverick.
Out of selfishness, here are a few other things I'd like to see in the coming weeks:
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