MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature convenes on Tuesday, a day after Tim Walz is sworn in as governor.
When Walz takes the job at noon on Monday, it will mean an end to Gov. Mark Dayton’s eight years in office.
Pat Kessler spoke with Dayton about his proudest moments and biggest challenges.
On his first day in office:
Mark Dayton ordered an expansion of medical assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
His office filled with protesters, and he invited them to speak. It was the kind of noisy arrival Minnesotans would learn to expect in the next eight years.
The reluctant political son of Minnesota’s best-known family who became the state’s most consequential governor in a generation, Dayton disrupted fellow Democrats and Republicans alike.
He also ended years of debate to build a billion-dollar Vikings stadium, signing a landmark law legalizing same-sex marriage and raising taxes on the rich to erase a decade of devastating budget deficits.
But Mark Dayton told us in his last interview before leaving office his biggest achievement involved Minnesota’s smallest learners – statewide all-day kindergarten.
“Everybody was on board. Teachers found it beneficial for the future, parents were delighted that their kids were in a productive, safe learning environment while they were at work,” Dayton said. “It was just a win-win for everybody.”
As he prepares to leave the Governor’s office, Dayton was proud of what he’s accomplished, even putting out a Top 25 list.
“I feel that I did my very, very best,” Dayton said.
But there are also some epic missteps.
Dayton is still frustrated by the botched rollout of MNLARS, a state-of-the-art computer system to process vehicle licenses.
“I wanted Minnesotans to have a restored faith in government. A government that works for them. That we can deliver services efficiently and effectively,” Dayton said. “And this just smears everything.”
His administration failed to anticipate serious problems with MNSure, the state’s health care website.
And he was blindsided by a newspaper investigation into widespread abuse of seniors in nursing homes.
In recent years, Dayton, who turns 72 this month, was hobbled by illness and injury, famously fainting during a state of the state address. He announced the next day he has prostate cancer.
He later underwent a series of back and hip operations, leaving him physically unstable.
Dayton is leaving office as Minnesota’s longest-serving statewide official, beginning in 1978. He was state commissioner, auditor, a one-term U.S. senator and a two-term governor.
He graded himself “F” in the Senate, but redeemed his reputation as governor.
Dayton is unusually reticent for a politician, dreading the idea of the traditional governor’s portrait. It will show him standing in front of the State Capitol, symbolizing the massive once-in-a-century building restoration he oversaw.
Dayton doesn’t know what’s next for him, and he’ll take time to figure it out, but he’s grateful for what he says is the honor of his life to be governor.
“You have got a chance on the state and the local level to make things happen, improve people’s lives and make a difference,” Dayton said.