Campaign Crawlers

Blundering Toward the Governorship

One of the "worst senators" wants to try his hand as governor.

By 8.12.10

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By his own admission, Mark Dayton wasn't much of a senator. Minnesota Democrats have decided to give him a chance to prove he'd better a better governor, as he is the party's choice to run against Republican Tom Emmer in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Dayton won Tuesday's primary in a tight race with state representative Margaret Anderson Kelliher. While none of the Democrats on the ballot seemed like a good choice to pull Minnesota through the Great Recession, on a scale of one to ten in terms of liberalism, Dayton comes in at 11.

In a recent editorial for the Star Tribune, Dayton laid out his glorious plan for lucky would-be constituents: Tax the rich -- even more. He opined, with pride: "My first objective in offsetting an estimated $6 billion deficit for the next biennium would be to make the richest Minnesotans pay at least that same share of their incomes in Minnesota taxes."

While Minnesotans tend to elect liberals, the occasional conservative slips through. Pawlenty, the departing governor was one. Under his tenure, Minnesota slipped from one of the most heavily taxed states.

Dayton's biography differs considerably. He was a legislative aide for Walter Mondale, another liberal Minnesota gem, and then served as U.S. Senator from 2001-07. He earned a reputation, albeit a poor one, during his tenure in Congress. Dayton told a group of high school students in 2006 if he were to grade himself on his accomplishments as a U.S. Senator, he'd give himself an "F." That same year Time magazine named Dayton one of the country's five worst Senators (they called him "The Blunderer") because he "exhibited erratic behavior" and at one point closed his office for a month because of an "unspecified terrorist threat."

Unfortunately his political philosophy is even worse. He's as progressive as President Barack Obama, siding with him on policy issues from advocating universal health care, to opposing privatization of Social Security and raising taxes on the wealthy. He opposes the Iraq war, supports same-sex marriage, and is pro-choice. Hardly any of those positions would be as harmful to Minnesotans -- or more in line with the President's playbook -- as an increase in taxes on the rich. On his web page he unabashedly declares:

Read my lips, "Tax the rich." Minnesota's wealthiest citizens pay only two-thirds of their fair share of state and local taxes. That's wrong. As Governor, I will raise taxes on the rich of Minnesota, NOT on the rest of Minnesota.

Dayton actually supports as many as three new income tax brackets including persons/couples earning between $130,000 and $150,000, those who earn over $500,000, and those who rake in $1 million. He says he would also tax million dollar homes and eliminate tax loopholes which allow "snowbirds" -- Minnesotans who bear its frigid winters in warm climate for six months plus one day -- to evade paying personal income taxes. The plan is based on data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue's Tax Incidence Study. From it he derives that if "the richest 10% of Minnesota households paid the same percentage of their incomes in state and local taxes as the rest of taxpayers, they would provide $3.8 billion in additional revenues for the current biennium and, by extrapolation, over $4 billion in the next biennium."

His logic is faulty, though certainly consistent with liberal thinking. He concludes this would erase the future deficit and balance the budget (and though he fails to mention it, throw some wealthy folks into irascible rage). What he of course neglects to realize, or at least acknowledge, is that a tax on the rich does the opposite because it compels them to relocate, affecting the economy and the deficit.  Rich States, Poor States authors Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore argued in the Wall Street Journal last year, "Here's the problem for states that want to pry more money out of the wallets of rich people. It never works because people, investment capital and businesses are mobile: They can leave tax-unfriendly states and move to tax-friendly states."

The real irony about Dayton's soapbox regarding money is how much of it he has. Dayton is the heir to the Dayton-Hudson fortune of Dayton department store -- now Macy's -- fame. The Dayton Company started Target Corporations and financed his 2000 run for Senate with related funds.

That's not all. The group "Alliance For a Better Minnesota" has been pummeling his opponent, Republican Tom Emmer with negative ads for a while. One of their biggest contributors is "Win Minnesota" which operates via the generous donations from members of Dayton's own family, including his ex-wife (the eldest daughter of John D. Rockefeller III). His mantra: If you can't convince them; buy them. Dayton might succeed at both. In a mid-June KSTP/Survey USA poll of likely voters, in a three-way race Dayton would win a plurality.

Minnesotans have already elected one embarrassment, whose blunders never cease. They don't need two in the nation's limelight.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.