Dayton’s stormy Tuesday

In 1994 or so one of my daughters was in school with one of Mark Dayton’s sons. Dayton was serving his last year as state auditor. At a silent auction to raise funds for the school, Dayton contributed Power Lunch for 2 with Mark Dayton at the Minneapolis Club. As the auction was winding down, I noticed that not a single person had entered a bid on it. So I did, and I remained the only bidder. I won for the very modest amount of my bid. I should add that I was prepared to go higher!

I thought I had been lucky. In retrospect, however, I think the other parents may have known something I didn’t.

I invited my friend Bruce Sanborn to join me for the lunch. Bruce was chairman of the Claremont Institute at the time. I scheduled the lunch with Dayton. He joined us and picked up the tab as promised. But I made a big mistake in opening our conversation with a discussion of Bruce’s and my support for school choice and vouchers, especially for inner city parents.

All three of us had kids attending private school. I knew that Dayton opposed school choice, but wanted to hear him talk about the issue. I thought it would make for an interesting discussion. Big mistake.

Dayton flew into a rage. He could not disagree agreeably, or so it seemed to me. Having to avoid conversation on subjects we disagreed on, the rest of the lunch was funereal. Dayton did add me to his Christmas card list for several years following the lunch, but his annual Christmas updates were uncomfortably inappropriate as well.

Something is wrong with Governor Dayton (as he now is). Or rather, some things are wrong with Governor Dayton. Many Minnesotans have seen what I saw at lunch with him up close and personal. We think he is medicated for it (or them). We’re on a roller coaster ride with him until his second term expires in two years. Every day is an adventure. Yesterday, for example.

Minnesota’s beautiful state capitol building in St. Paul is a tribute to Minnesota’s Civil War veterans and the battles in which they served. It was designed by Cass Gilbert and built by the generation of men who had served in the war.

The capitol is saturated with their valor and their sacrifice. The rotunda displays their battle flags like sacred relics. The House chamber holds a portrait of Lincoln above the Speaker’s desk (below). Statuary in the second floor rotunda honors Minnesota’s greatest Union Army officers including William Colvill and John Sanborn, Bruce’s forebear.


Paintings in the governor’s antechamber and reception room memorialize the battles in which Minnesota’s Civil War veterans fought. They depict the Battle of Nashville, the Fourth Minnesota entering Vicksburg, the Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Third Minnesota entering Little Rock, the Fifth Minnesota at Corinth. See Minnesota State Capitol: Overview of the Fine Art.

The state capitol has undergone an expensive renovation. Governor Dayton evidently feels ambivalent, shall we say, about the return of the paintings to his office. According to Dayton, the Civil War paintings are insufficiently representative of contemporary Minnesota, and he got a little worked up about it yesterday at a capitol preservation meeting. Pat Kessler reports on the incident for WCCO in the segment below (text here). The KARE 11 segment accessible here provides a glimpse of the paintings. The Star Tribune’s Pat Condon covers the story in “Gov. Dayton walks out of public meeting over Capitol art controversy.”

The controversy created by Governor Dayton yesterday is stamped with his personal issues, but it perfectly reflects the identity politics and political correctness that suffuse the Democratic Party. In its own way it gives us a classic case study of the descent in progress.

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