So the big Capitol news this week is obviously the fracas between Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Majority Leader Tom Bakk on Thursday over Dayton’s pay increases for his cabinet. Before Dayton said Bakk “connives behind my back” and Bakk obliquely told Dayton through a reporter, “this is not a kids’ sandbox”, I got to see the warning signs of the impending kerfuffle firsthand.
I actually was in St. Paul the day before, for the Bemidji Day at the Capitol volunteer lobbying event, where both Dayton and Bakk were speakers. They were never in the same room (third floor of the State Office Building) at the same time, though.
After Dayton was done speaking to the Bemidji group, his press assistant invited me to come down a few floors and ask him some questions as he left. I got to take part in what’s called a “media scrum”, where a bunch of reporters cluster around a public figure and ask the person questions. This was my first scrum ever at the Capitol, and I got to stand in a secluded hallway beside reporters from the Associated Press and MPR while we asked questions of Minnesota’s governor together.
I went first, and stammered out a question on some legislation that was specific to Bemidji and that Dayton said he hadn’t heard of. Then, the other reporters immediately launched into questions about the pay raise fight, which until that point had been mostly limited to Dayton and House Republicans. Even then, Dayton was showing obvious and pointed frustration with people’s criticism of the raises- the Q and A I was in on produced quotes such as Dayton’s assertion the Republicans were showing the “definition of hypocrisy”. I could hear the anger in Dayton’s voice as I was standing there beside him.
At the now-infamous press conference the next day, Dayton likened his situation to Pres. Obama, a fellow Democrat executive at the end of his rope when it comes to Republican legislative leaders second-guessing him.
There’s more similarities, though. Like Obama, Dayton has been re-elected to a second term, and used that success as a factor in deciding that he’s going to be more assertive in putting forward his agenda and speaking his mind on the things that matter to him.
Bakk is an Iron Range-adjacent DFLer from a district that’s pretty far from Duluth. His relative conservatism has clashed with Dayton’s ideas in the past, and it was only a matter of time before the two butted heads again. There other signs Wednesday that pay raises would be the next battlefield the two fought on, mainly in the written statement from Bakk that he had “reservations” about the increases.
Like many observers, my concern now is that the Bakk/Dayton flap will mean a much less productive 2015 legislative session. This conflict has already shown us examples of the classic Minnesotan passive-aggressiveness. Can we now see some classic Minnesota Nice?