By John Lundy, Forum News Service
Four years after his party denied Mark Dayton access to its state convention floor in Duluth, DFL delegates welcomed him to the same floor Saturday with a riotous celebration.
“This is a great time to be a Democrat in Minnesota,” the first-term governor told a pumped-up crowd of 1,200 delegates in the old arena at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center after accepting their unanimous endorsement. “Aren’t you proud to be a DFLer? I sure am.”
With the governor’s seat open in 2010, Dayton chose to bypass the endorsement process and take his case to Democratic voters in the primary. Then, he was left to chatting with convention delegates and reporters in the DECC’s hallways. The party endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but Dayton had the last laugh, sweeping to victories in the primary and general elections.
Dayton’s first two years in office were challenging because of Republican obstructionism, he told the party faithful, boasting that he vetoed 57 GOP-sponsored bills.
But after voters gave control to the DFL two years ago, “We produced what I had promised: progress,” Dayton said.
He cited improvements to early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, a two-year tuition freeze in the state’s public colleges and universities, marriage equality, the $9.50 minimum wage indexed to inflation, anti-bullying legislation, higher income taxes on the top 2 percent and “Republican deficits turned into DFL surpluses” as among their accomplishments.
“That’s a pretty good beginning,” Dayton said.
Then Dayton turned to Republicans, who were in Rochester deciding who to endorse to run against him.
“Republicans’ problem is that they’re against everything,” Dayton said. “They have a one-word political vocabulary: No. … And, oh, how it upsets them to see Minnesota get better. Well, they’re going to have a lot more to get upset about.”
With only the endorsement for secretary of state in contention and a potentially fractious platform debate on mining mostly put off until the next day, Saturday was a Democratic-Farmer-Labor “love fest,” in the words of delegate Wayne Pulford of Proctor.
They were in such good spirits that in the midst of unanimously endorsing Sen. Al Franken for re-election, they didn’t mind poking fun at his narrow win — determined by a recount — over then-Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008.
“Driving up here from Minneapolis, there were more people in Tobie’s than Al’s margin of victory,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar joked, referring to the popular diner in Hinckley. After a little more teasing, she gave Franken a glowing introduction.
Franken responded that he had promised DFL delegates six years ago that he would win, “and I did. I just didn’t say by how much. … This time I’ll even tell you the margin: by more than last time.”
Franken said that he, unlike a Republican senator, would represent the middle class, not the wealthiest Americans. As an example, he cited his opposition to the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, saying it would give Americans fewer choices, poorer service and higher rates.
Comcast, he said, has 114 lobbyists in Washington, and he understands it’s their job to protect their company’s bottom line. But, he added: “Minnesota families have a bottom line, too, and protecting their bottom line — that’s my job.”
If there was a shadow over the festivities, it was cast by the festering dispute over a proposed resolution to change the party platform, declaring the DFL to be supportive of “responsible mining.” The Duluth News Tribune reported Saturday that some delegates see that as coming too close to endorsing potential copper mining in northeastern Minnesota.
Pulford said he already had turned in his ballot, marked in favor of the resolution.
But he said he wouldn’t be overly concerned if the resolution were voted down.
“If there’s no resolution either way, the party’s neutral on it,” Pulford said. “That might actually be the best thing.”
But Tom Rukavina, the retired state legislator from Virginia who was one of the candidates for governor four years ago, said he thought Dayton should take a strong pro-mining stand.
“Mark Dayton has always been for the steelworkers; I wish he’d come out a little stronger on the copper-nickel mining,” said Rukavina, who is running this year in a nonpartisan St. Louis County Board race. “I am a little disappointed about that. I think that might have some repercussions on the Iron Range.”
Retiring state Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, took a nuanced view, saying that “different parts of the state feel differently about it.”
But Dayton will have to pay attention to northeastern Minnesota, Huntley said.
“If we don’t do well in the 8th Congressional District for Gov. Dayton, we’re not going to do well anyplace in the state,” he said.
The issue will be unavoidable today, as the party platform is the major remaining item on the DFL agenda.
On Saturday, delegates endorsed Tina Flint Smith for lieutenant governor along with Dayton. Smith, his chief of staff, was Dayton’s choice to replace Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth, who did not seek re-election.
Also unanimously endorsed for re-election were state Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson. In the one contested race, state Rep. Steve Simon of Hopkins was endorsed over state Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center for secretary of state. The incumbent, Mark Ritchie, is stepping down.