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In which the Strib arrives late to the case

Elected in November 2000, Mark Dayton served as Minnesota’s United States Senator from 2001-2007. While in office he distinguished himself with erratic behavior including the closure of his Senate office in October 2004. Having been named by Time as one of the five worst Senators, Dayton did not seek reelection to the Senate when his term expired. He is nevertheless now seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Minnesota governor, and he is back in the news.

Dayton is one of the beneficiaries of the Dayton’s (now Target) department store fortune. He himself has never worked in the private sector and has spent most of his adult life in politics. Back in 2004 I wrote somewhat uncharitably that “Dayton is Minnesota’s contribution to the psychiatric profession.”

Yesterday liberal Star Tribune editorial columnist Lori Sturdevant attempted to perform some public relations work for Dayton, devoting her column to his struggle with depression and an alcoholic relapse during his Senate term. Sturdevant is a Democratic hack and her column treated Dayton with kid gloves. Today, however, the Star Tribune follows up with a much more aggressive news story that explores Dayton’s mental health issues as well as the alcoholic relapse during Dayton’s Senate term.

At a charity auction in 1994 or so I won the opportunity to have Dayton take me and a friend to lunch at the Minneapolis Club. The lunch occurred toward the end of Dayton’s tenure as the Minnesota state auditor. At lunch we argued politics and found nothing on which to agree. The lunch was extremely unpleasant because Dayton seemed to be unable to disagree agreeably. Dayton nevertheless put me on his Christmas card list for roughly the next five years.

Over those five years Dayton used his Christmas cards to discuss the dissolution of his two marriages, his entry into rehabilitation for alcoholism and related therapy issues. His psychiatric challenges were no secret to the many people on Dayton’s Christmas card list, including virtual strangers like me.

In its story today, the Star Tribune reports: “People who have worked closely with Dayton or within the [Minnesota Democratic Party] said they have long known the former senator struggled with mental health issues.” Later the story adds: “Opponents — and even some supporters — have long whispered of his possible struggle with mental illness.”

Well, thanks. Where, one might ask, was the Star Tribune during Dayton’s Senate campaign? It wouldn’t have taken much digging to report this story during the 2000 Senate campaign.

It also wouldn’t have take much digging to report the story during Dayton’s six-year term in office, when Dayton provided the Star Tribune with many occasions that made the story relevant. Today’s story notes, for example: “Dayton said neither his depression nor his alcoholism affected his political decisions, including those to close his Senate office in 2004 when he — and no one else — perceived Washington to be at an immediate risk for terrorism.”

Now that Dayton himself has sought to defuse the issue by making it public, the Star Tribune has jumped on the case. Does anyone notice that it’s about five or ten years late?

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