Governor Mark Dayton is Minnesota’s political version of Mike Rowe, the star of the Discovery Channel television show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe’s show is all about him taking on difficult, disrespected and grotesque jobs that others avoid, such as being a sewer inspector, road kill scavenger, worm dung farmer, shark repellent tester, maggot farmer, and sea lamprey exterminator. Who knew that worm dung needed farming?
Dirty Job Dayton
Governor Mark Dayton may not be farming worm dung, but consider just a few of the filthy tasks Dirty Job Dayton has already embraced in his five year’s in office.
Taxing Most Powerful Minnesotans. Before Dayton, non-partisan analyses were showing that the wealthiest Minnesotans were not paying their fair share of taxes. So Dayton ran for Governor unabashedly championing tax increases on the state’s most wealthy citizens, which earned him some very powerful enemies. At the time, progressive political consultants considered advocating almost any kind of tax increase political suicide for candidates. But Dayton ran on a platform of large tax increases, won a razar thin victory at the polls, and then promptly passed the tax increases into law as promised.
Implementing Unpopular Obamacare. Dayton wasn’t done there. One of his very first acts of Governor was to champion Obamacare, which many politicians were extremely nervous about at the time. In contrast to his fellow Governors in neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota, Dayton embraced Obamacare’s Medicare expansion to cover 35,000 of the most vulnerable Minnesotans. The Governor had Obamacare protesters shouting him down in his announcement news conference, but he let them have their say and stuck to his principles without looking back. As a result of taking on a number of controversial Obamacare implementation tasks, Minnesota now has the second best rate of health insurance coverage of any state (95%).
Resolving Vikings Stadium Quagmire. Then there was the Vikings Stadium debate that had been festering for almost a decade before Dayton came to office. Despite polls showing that subsidizing the stadium was unpopular, Dayton provided active backing for legislation to publicly subsidize the Vikings Stadium. While noting that he is “not one to defend the economics of the NFL,” he plugged his nose and embraced a job he didn’t welcome, but felt was necessary to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and boost a then-suffering construction sector.
Cutting Coveted Social Safety Net. Early in Dayton’s tenure as Governor, he even made significant cuts in state safety net programs, which is one of the very worst jobs any progressive can ever get. Faced with a large budget shortfall, he proposed cutting $950 million in planned spending, told agencies to cut their budgets by up to 10 percent, and cut the state workforce by 6 percent. That work had to leave even Dirty Job Dayton feeing grimy.
Love these positions or hate them — and Dayton himself didn’t relish many of them — no one can accuse Dayton of political timidity.
Dirtiest Job Yet
But this winter, Dirty Job Dayton finally met his Waterloo. With no political allies in sight, he attempted to push through salary increases for state agency commissioners, who are making less than their peers in many other states. Dayton said he “knew there would be negative reaction,” but, as is his habit, he plugged his nose and pushed forward anyway.
How did that go for him? Well, in the last few weeks Dayton learned that attempting to raise bureaucrats’ pay makes shark repellent testing look like a walk in the park.
Fresh off that experience, one might expect that Dayton would now stick to clean, safe, and easy jobs for the remainder of his time in office. But if you believe that, you obviously don’t know Dirty Job Dayton very well.
Next Up: Slinging Asphalt
After the salary increase shellacking Dayton endured, he has already found a new thankless task to champion – fixing Minnesota’s deteriorating roads and bridges. While Republicans want a modest short-term fix funded out of the current budget surplus, that would be much too easy for Dirty Job Dayton. Dayton is attempting to put in place an ambitious decade-long $11 billion solution. Such a long-term fix necessitates a 16 cent per gallon (at current prices) increase in the gas tax. Not surprisingly, the polls are looking a little rough at the moment.
But Dirty Job Dayton doesn’t care. Like Mike Rowe, if the assignment stinks, scares, or stings, he’s in!