It is late on the night of the 8th of November, and the AP has placed the last Senate seat--Virginia--firmly in the hands of the Democrats. With a majority of 51 seats, and the promise that the Independents will caucus with the Left, our sitting Vice President has no power to bear to national decisions for the final two years of his role as eminence grise behind George Bush. The networks have exhausted themselves interviewing every expert and elected official who would stand still to comment on the sudden and momentous shift in the national tenor of political affairs and the prognoses of what could come in the next years. For those who have never liked the current adminstration, they could have devised no more satisfying pergatory than to place this sitting president and his aides in office for two long years with a solid opposition in Congress.
But there is an empty chair at the party. Someone very important, and very special, did not join in the public avalanche of commentary and opinion. And I miss him.
Mark Dayton came into his Senate seat six years ago, representing Minnesota--no, /serving/ Minnesota as he had done all his adult life-- supported by longtime mentor Fritz Mondale, and tutored by his longtime friend Paul Wellstone. It was Paul who, early on, helped Mark navigate the tortuous swamps of in-the-beltway politics, the endless gladhanding, the need to raise money, the need to balance the very real needs of the small folk with the expectations of the powerful. Mark paid his own way in, wishing to be beholden to no one, owing no one, free to respond fairly and honestly to the breadth of his consituency, no matter the issue or the family name.
On a night just like this one, four years ago, the result had been so different. And I wrote in the days that followed an epitaph, an obituary for a lost friend whose death in a plane crash seemed to foreshadow a deadly four-year run of sorrows. Paul Wellstone was my friend, and my voice in national affairs, and our state was impoverished by this terrible loss.
But Mark Dayton may well have suffered more than most, and most quietly. For he had not only lost a friend of the heart of decades, but also his guide in the hallways of the Senate. Not a gladhander and backslapper like Paul, nor a comfortable speaker before the assembled--I think Paul could have given a speech anywhere, anytime, without preamble or preparation--Mark needed to draw on his deepest reserves of resolve and his considerable intellect and sensibilities of human need to make up the difference. He became a gifted orator on the Senate floor, working from his own fine writing, but out in the towns and counties of this state, he was what he has always been, the true son of his father, naturally reserved and somewhat shy but passionately devoted to the public welfare and deeply, deeply committed to the individual and community.
When we lost Paul, Mark lost his compass. And right behind this grievous wrenching loss was the fact that Mark was now in a clear minority: both House and Senate were now firmly in the hands of the Administration, and all of Mark's best hopes, dreams and plans for a better tomorrow had nowhere to go. He championed many causes in his remaining four years, stayed true to his convictions, and walked a lonely road in a city where true friendships come dear and can be split apart with the cleaver of political expediency.
And, at the end of things, after all the quiet work in the state trenches, he gave himself a failing grade, agreeing with the Republicans that his work merited an 'F." But the story is in the records of his state office for any who wish to see what has passed in the six years of Mark Dayton's incumbency. In this recent year he secured more than $100 million (read it again: /$100 million/) for Minnesota in the Senate's annual spending bills, and then hurried off secure a late-hour provision in the Appropriations bill that required the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to correct an erroneous information bulletin that had gone out to over 36 million beneficiaries carrying incorrect elegibility information that had the potential of disenfranchising over 14 million low-income beneficiaries.
In 2005 along he secured an additional $2.5 million dollars for the Family Assistance Centers to support the families of those deployed in Iraq. He was the Senate leader in the effort to protect the Byrne grant program which provides money to state and local law enforcement for the resources needed to fight illegal drug activities.
In 2004 Dayton fought, with intensity against our own Department of Defense's requirement that military personnel--comprised of a great many National Guard troops sent to Iraq--pay their own way home to see their families on leave. Dayton's disgust was made public and, though he was reviled for pressuring the Adminsitration, he won through with an amendment to the defense supplemental bill that provided our fighting men and women with a free ticket home, from the front to their front doors. But the DoD countermeasured, deciding that only those who were in service after 2003 would so benefit. Dayton came roaring back and pushed through a stand-alone bill in 2004 that forced the DoD to repay every single service personnel, this in a Republican controlled body.
And 2004 was a marvelous year for Minnesota: Sen. Dayton secured over $120 million in defense contracts; $15.45 million for military construction efforts at the Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Duluth airports; enactment of the biodiesel tax credit; ethanol tax incentives; enactment of the Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act; restoration of Minnesota's precious Title I funding level, bringing an additional $237 million to restore earlier cuts and ensuring that all Minnesota school districts would at the very least receive the same level of funding as the year before, if not more; and, as classic a Dayton effort as could every be conceived, a successful intercession with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to restore $1.9 million in federal funding owed to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority for the continued construction of safe and affordable housing for those in need in this state.
There was more: money was secured to resettle Hmong refugees in Minnesota, to continue Roseau's recovery from the devastating floods of 2002, for agricultural projects throughout the state, for transportation projects, flood control projects, conservation projects, criminal justice and public safety projects, public health projects, critical housing shortage projects...
And he gave himself an 'F.'
I, as a citizen of this state, refuse to accept his self-indictment. My bag of gold stars is ready to plaster all over the post-incumbency history of this one public servant's efforts on my community's collective behalf.
And I know he will go one as he began, thirty-five years ago, with the establishment of new programs and nonprofit organizations targeting those in greatest need and the issues focused on our greatest state perils: a decent life for all, defense of the environment, education at all levels, support of literacy and the vibrant arts that are so much of our state identification, and the defense of the great trackless wilderness to the north that signifies one of the greatest national and state park legacies in the country.
You see, such service is a Dayton legacy. It runs in the family, has for generations. And no one gives a Dayton an 'F."
Deborah Morse-Kahn, M.A., Director
Regional Research Associates