On second day, Dayton faces tense situation

Dayton signs order

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton diffused a tense situation at his first official function Wednesday by sharing his microphone with shouting protesters crowded into his office.

Dozens of people opposed to the state getting more deeply involved in the federal Medicaid program jammed into the governor’s reception room alongside legislators, reporters and photographers in a scene Capitol observers say they never have witnessed before. Usually, governors restrict ceremonies to supporters and the media, but Dayton, in his second full day in office, opened up the room to all who fit in.

“It is the people’s room,” Dayton said. “This is where democracy occurs.”

Before Dayton walked in from his private office, state troopers tried to ban signs from the room and a trooper took one away from 86-year-old Fremont Gruss of Deephaven, who refused to voluntarily give up the sign that linked federally funded health care to socialism. Gruss vigorously argued to keep the sign, saying he had every right to carry it in the public place.

While protests are not unique in the state Capitol, how Dayton handled this one probably was. He asked three protesters, who included Tea Party members opposed to expanding government, to rebut things he and other supporters said about the need to expand Medicaid, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance.

That somewhat quieted the protesters, some of whom later thanked him for sharing the microphone.

Democrat Dayton signed an executive order, his first since taking office at 12:34 p.m. Monday, to get Minnesota involved in the expanded Medical Assistance program.

Nearly 100,000 more poor Minnesotans will receive government-funded health care under the program and Dayton said 20,000 health-care jobs will be saved.

A change legislators and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty made last year forced 17 hospitals outside of the Twin Cities area to stop serving many poor residents. Dayton said the order he signed will allow rural hospitals to resume that service.

Pawlenty administration officials said the state will need nine months to get the new Medical Assistance active. But Dayton said he would order his new human services commissioner, not yet appointed, to make speeding up the process a top priority.

Republican Pawlenty opposed the program, saying it would cost the state. Democrats support it because more people will be served.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the new program should be a fiscal break-even proposition for Minnesota.

“Because Gov. Dayton signed this executive order today, thousands of people in northern Minnesota can now see a primary care doctor and a dentist, and be treated for mental health issues,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said Wednesday.

The lead House health and human services lawmaker said he is concerned that the federal government could pull the funds once the program begins.

“As we speak, the federal government owes Minnesota a half-billion dollars in special education funding, costs now borne by school districts and property tax increases,” Abler said, adding the same could happen in Medical Assistance.

One of the three people Dayton asked to respond, Jack McMillian of Annandale, said the U.S. Constitution does not allow the government to be involved in health care.

“I’m thinking to myself, where’s the church?” he said, because churches and other nonprofit organizations should provide health care to the poor.

McMillian said that if the federal government provides health care, it creates “a crippling effect” on government that eventually destroys the system. “The answer is not funding a bigger government.”

Gruss, after his sign was removed, said his family has a long history in the military and federal health care rubs him the wrong way. “I’m for freedom and liberty,” Gruss said after arguing with the trooper.

As a baby’s cry nearly drowned out already-loud boos and cheers, Dayton began the ceremony with: “This is an office where all points of view are honored and respected.”

A crowd of veteran legislators was surprised with what was happening, from the signs to Dayton’s efforts to calm the tension.

“I’ve never seen where a bunch of very noisy protesters were allowed to speak their piece,” Huntley said.

After the ceremony, Dayton shook hands with supporters of the order he signed, then dived into the crowd of opponents, many of whom shook his hand with frowns on their faces. Others thanked him for letting their side speak.

Protesters pack Dayton office; he lets them speak

State trooper orders Fremont Gruss to remove sign from governor's office

Mark Dayton’s first official act as Minnesota governor, signing up for a federal medical program, drew a large protest and he handed over microphone to three people who oppose his action.

Dayton’s staff allowed protesters into the Governor’s Reception Room, something that seldom happened in the past, and scuffles developed when state troopers tried to prevent the group taking in signs questioning the constitutionality of the state accepting federal health care money.

Dayton

When Dayton entered the room to make a few remarks, he announced that opponents would have the same opportunity to speak as those who support his actions. That somewhat quieted the protesters, some of whom later thanked him for sharing the microphone.

“It is the people’s room,” Dayton said. “This is where democracy occurs.”

The main executive order Democrat Dayton signed, his first since taking office at 12:34 p.m. Monday, was to get Minnesota involved in an expanded federal Medicaid program, known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota. That is to provide money to expand health-care programs for the poor.

The second executive order removes a ban Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty put in place on requests for federal health-care funds.

Republican legislative leaders immediately decried Dayton joining President Barack Obama’s federal health plans. Their response was mild compared to those Dayton allowed in the room where his signing ceremony took place.

One of the three people Dayton asked to respond, Jack McMillian of Annandale, said the U.S. Constitution does not allow the government to be involved in health care.

Jake McMillian

“I’m thinking to myself, where’s the church?” he said, because the church and non-profit organizations should provide health care to the poor.

McMillian said that if the federal government provides health care, it creates “a crippling effect” on government that eventually destroys the system.

Before the ceremony, Fremont Gruss of Deep Haven loudly protested when a trooper removed his sign tying government-run health care to socialism.

One of dozens of protesters, including several from the Tea Party, Gruss was allowed to remain in the governor’s office suite. Other, smaller, signs remained as the protesters packed the room, already containing legislators and others who had worked for the Medical Assistance expansion.

“I’m for freedom and liberty,” the 86-year-old Gruss said after fighting the trooper.

As a baby cried loudly in a room filled with boos and cheers, Dayton began the ceremony with: “This is an office where all points of view are honored and respected.”

A crowd of veteran legislators sitting in the front was surprised

“In all the years of Pawlenty in the office, I never saw signs in the office,” said former Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who was House speaker until Tuesday.

Later, she said: “We have a governor who is as statement and a grownup.”

A Democratic-Farmer-Laborite health-care leader, Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth, sat quietly next to Kelliher.

“I’ve never seen where a bunch of very noisy protesters were allowed to speak their piece,” Huntley said.

After the ceremony, Dayton shook hands with supporters of the order he signed, then dived into the crowd of opponents, many of whom shook his hand with frowns on their faces. Others thanked him for letting their side speak.