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Dayton picks up Perpich mantle of jobs

ST. PAUL -- Right outside Gov. Mark Dayton's State Capitol office is a plaque, a reminder of the last Democratic occupant of that office since 1991, Rudy Perpich.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (file photo)

ST. PAUL -- Right outside Gov. Mark Dayton's State Capitol office is a plaque, a reminder of the last Democratic occupant of that office since 1991, Rudy Perpich.

"None of us are as smart as all of us," states the plaque, which Dayton says he hung back up after last seeing it there under the Perpich administration, where he served as commissioner of energy and economic development.

It's an indicator of how he believes his relationship with the Republican-led Legislature should go -- coming together in the end to make Minnesota better.

"We're going to have our disagreements, but at the end of the process -- May 23 -- we're not only going to make it to the Frozen Four, we're going to win the championship," he told a Bemidji delegation gathered last week in the Governor's Reception Room.

"We're all one team -- it's all one Minnesota," Dayton said.


Dayton comes to the office most recently as a U.S. senator, but in addition to serving under Perpich as his jobs commissioner, Dayton served an elected term as state auditor.

"He was a jobs governor," Dayton told The Pioneer in an interview in the small conference room outside his office. "I came in with him in '83 in the throes of another serious recession, and he was a proactive governor that made things happen."

Perpich came into office after his predecessor, Republican Gov. Al Quie, went through seven special sessions to balance the state budget, ending up with a 10 percent income tax surcharge which blinked off when the budget was in the black.

This year, Dayton is grappling with a $6.2 billion budget deficit which he'll attempt to solve in his budget, to be released Feb. 15.

"I learned some important lessons from him," Dayton said of Perpich. "First of all, the importance of a job to someone who doesn't have one. My job as governor is to do everything I can to provide jobs for the people of Minnesota -- those who are unemployed, those who are underemployed, to those who want better opportunities for those young people from Bemidji High School who were here and are going onto college and need a better job environment when they graduate."

Dayton says "whatever I can do to make a difference and to be proactive" will frame his administration. "It's easy to say no to this and no to that and no to everything, but Perpich said, 'What can I do?' to try to make a difference.

"I hope I can follow in those footsteps," said Dayton, who turned 64 on Jan. 26.

"I won't be building chopsticks factories or visiting castles in Switzerland," Dayton said. "Rudy had, as the French said about the Gaul, the faults of his virtues and the virtues of his faults. We all have our faults, and we hope for a lot more virtues than faults.


"I still have great respect and high regard and personal affecttion for him," Dayton said of Perpich, who died in 1995. "And learned a lot from him."

About 50 people traveled to St. Paul on Tuesday for Bemidji Day at the Capitol, the sixth annual trip but the first to meet with the governor. In the front row were Bemidji High School students who each told Dayton of their post-high school plans.

"I enjoy it so much," Dayton said of meeting with constituents. "Especially the young people. I remember when I was in the Senate and young people would come in various groups and that was always the highlight of my day. You look at all those bright, smart faces of student council members and see the future leaders of our state, nation and world and that youthful enthusiasm is really uplifting for me and aspiring."

He also credited the Bemidji City Council and Bemidji School Board members who made the trip, saying they are the closest to the public that elected them.

"They have the most challenging elected offices in the state because of the budget challenges that they face," the DFL governor said. "They know where they live, they know their home phone numbers, they see them walking down the street every day.

"To see the civic leadership of a great city like Bemidji travel all the way here in the dead of winter to have their voices heard -- that inspires my faith in democracy," Dayton said.

He has already made rural economic development a priority, making visits to Baudette and Jacksons to plug manufacturing growth.

"I'm looking for every business opportunity," he said, as well as his new commissioner of employment and economic development, former Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. exec Mark Phillips.


"We will be looking at every business possibility, ones that exist now and ones that might come new," Dayton said. "I'm available to the city of Bemidji any time to be part of their local economic development team."

Earlier in the week, Dayton released a bonding plan that proposes $531 million in infrastructure projects, but left the door open for another $470 million for the Legislature to provide.

"The bonding bill has half of it available, and we talked here about some of the projects (for Bemidji), the Science Center facility and also projects that would benefit Bemidji State, and therefore the entire region" he said.

The Headwaters Science Center seeks $500,000 in planning and design funds, which Dayton said wasn't in his initial bill as he was seeking shovel-ready projects.

He also noted how his signing of the federal early Medicaid enrollment order helped North Country Regional Hospital and the local economy.

"Local Government Aid is also important, in terms of providing essential police and fire services and snowplowing," he said. "You hear about the school district covering 800 square miles through its transportation system and you realize the extra financial burdens that are placed on school districts in the larger expanses of our state."

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to cut state spending $1 billion, with significant cuts to LGA, which Republicans say only continue cuts made in 2010.

Asked if he will veto that bill, Dayton said, "I haven't used that word, but I will have to see what if finally looks like. I've stated what your editorial (Pioneer, Jan. 30) stated, that I think a piecemeal approach is the wrong approach, because it just isolates one or two parts of the budget and is a partial solution, when it's a $6.2 billion problem that requires a complete solution."


That's what he intends to provide in his Feb. 15 budget.

"It's traditional for the Legislature to grant the governor the courtesy of being able to present his budget first and they'll have plenty of time in the next couple of months to pick it apart and try to do better," Dayton said.

"If they can do better, if as the sign says, 'None of us are as smart as all of us,' comes true, then we'll have a better outcome at the end of the legislative session," he said.

Continuing cuts under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty are still cuts, Dayton said, adding that increased revenue as to be part of the solution.

"I'm going to propose a balance budget, a complete solution that will include revenue increases on the progressive end of the income tax and that will be fair and responsive," Dayton said.

The Bemidji Pioneer and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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