So far in his tenure, Governor Mark Dayton has scarely met a controversial issue that he has not embraced. Think about the hallmarks of his tenure so far:
• He has tenaciously advocated for an income tax increase on the state’s most powerful individuals.
• He has cut billions of dollars in safety net programs that are near and dear to him and his political base.
• He crossed the environmentalists on environmental permit streamlining and the teacher’s union on alternative teacher licensure, and these are both very powerful constituencies in his own party.
• He has taken on Native American gaming interests, perhaps the most financially powerful interest group that supports his party, by supporting a variety of ideas for expanding gambling.
• He has very aggressively championed the implementation of the much vilified Obamacare.
Nobody could ever accuse this guy of only choosing issues that are politically easy. Dayton’s tenure so far reminds me of a marathon showing of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, where the host engages in a variety of revolting vocations that very few of us are willing to enter.
But maybe he’s on to something. After all, today we learned in the Star Tribune’s poll that Dirty Job Dayton’s approval rating is a respectable 52%, much higher than midwest GOP Governors in Wisconsin (37% approve) and Ohio (36% approve). Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had a 42% approval rating in his last year of office.
How does Dayton do it? He is not considered particularly glib or politically skilled. He has almost no electoral mandate. He certainly hasn’t been able to ride an economic boom to popularity.
I don’t pretend to fully understand Dayton’s appeal, but I think he benefits from at least two things. First, even when Minnesotans disagree with Dayton on many of these issues, I think the majority of them admire that he is at least sincerely engaged in messy problem-solving, rather than opting for partisan gamesmanship.
Second, everything is relative in politics, and to most Minnesotans Dayton looks better than his dance partners in the Legislature, who seem to have badly overestimated the extent of their electoral mandate, and don’t always appear to be sincerely engaged in nitty gritty problem-solving.
In other words, Minnesotans may not want to go up and give a big hug to Dirty Job Dayton after all the time he has spent mucking around in the State Capitol sewers, vermin traps and dumpsters, but they seem to admire him more than the dandies who refuse to dive into the dirty but necessary jobs.