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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 15 2012

Dayton tones down second State of State address

ST. PAUL – Gov. Mark Dayton took a kinder, gentler approach in his Wednesday night State of the State speech, but his message still was the same as in recent public comments when he harshly criticized Republicans.

“If we cooperate, if we share our best ideas, if we exchange our rigid ideologies for our shared ideals, we will revitalize our state,” Dayton said in a packed Minnesota House chamber.

There were no comments like he recently made asserting that Republican senators are “unfit to govern.” Instead, he used a more subtle tone, frequently using “please” when asking for action on legislation he supports.

Republican leaders of the two chambers varied on their assessment of the speech.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, criticized the speech as political.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said he heard a different tone: “We weren’t called incompetent to govern or anything like that.”

The Democratic governor made frequent, mostly indirect, references to long-held disagreements with Republicans who control the Legislature.

“Let’s not destroy good wages and benefits; damage our schools, colleges and universities; or curtail our capital investments in a search of another strategy of unproven value,” Dayton said.

The governor delivered the State of the State speech in front of joint session of the Minnesota Legislature, with most of the 201 lawmakers there.

He was the first governor since Jesse Ventura to deliver a night State of the State speech.

The atmosphere in the Capitol has been tense. Dayton’s comments in recent weeks have been even sharper than last year when he and Republicans so severely disagreed on the state budget that government shut down for 20 days.

Dayton made it clear on Wednesday that he feels GOP lawmakers are not consulting him enough.

“I am not interested in highly partisan, extreme measures, which are intended for campaign literature, rather than law,” he said, as Republicans sat sober-faced.

Dayton never specifically declared his opinion on the overall condition of Minnesota, although he said things are going better economically than in other states. He made it clear that encouraging job growth is his top priority.

“So I say to legislators, let’s take your best ideas and my best ideas and turn them into jobs,” he said. “And let’s do it now.”

Dayton said that passing a public works bill could create 21,700 jobs, but it would be worthwhile even at half that number.

He also promoted a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, but offered no new ideas about how to bridge gaps such as how to fund it or where it should be built.

Dayton said that Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, “have been terrific partners in this operation” and suggested they may be close to a stadium deal that he said would put thousands of Minnesotans to work.

“Pass the stadium bill this session,” Dayton pleaded. “Please.”

Senjem said Dayton is the one person who can make the stadium happen.

“We’ll work with him, but he has to put it together,” Senjem said.

Senjem said he did not like Dayton sprinkling his speech with political comments.

One was when Dayton said that the voters in November will decide between his preference to raise taxes on rich Minnesotans or Republicans’ budget-cutting proposals.

Dayton left many Republicans puzzled when he declared that he wanted “no more borrowing.” His comment followed one about borrowing from school districts, but many Republicans said it sounded like he wants to stop the state from all borrowing.

Dean pointed out that Dayton wants the state to borrow for public works projects, a stadium and to repair the state Capitol.

Overall, Dean left the 28-minute speech disappointed.

“I was hoping that it would be more realistic on what we can accomplish,” Dean said.

Dayton praised his administration’s efforts, in cooperation with lawmakers, to speed up state permitting processes that in the past have delayed business expansion.

He said work last year should be continued this year.

The governor said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency helped speed permits so a northern Minnesota wood products company could invest up to $9 million in its facilities. And the Agriculture Department saved taxpayers $300,000 while shortening most grain and produce license renewal waits to less than 30 days, he added.

Dayton also praised instructor Ron Ulseth of Itasca Community College for developing the Iron Range Engineering program that allows students to do engineering work for Minnesota firms.

“It’s so successful that the engineering department of Stanford University invited him there to teach their faculty about the benefit of the new model,” Dayton said, introducing Ulseth in the House gallery.

While noting education advances legislators and he approved last year, Dayton sounded less than optimistic the trend will continue.

“Already, however, legislators are advancing new proposals, some of which appear designed less to help students next September than to help themselves next November.”


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.