Capitol Chatter: Democrats look to make governor history

There is no statewide Minnesota election this year, so naturally politicos turn at least some of their attention to 2018. Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics blog feeds some of that need with an entry that reminds read...

There is no statewide Minnesota election this year, so naturally politicos turn at least some of their attention to 2018.

Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics blog feeds some of that need with an entry that reminds readers: "Gopher state Democrats have never won back-to-back gubernatorial elections with different nominees."

The political information guru also writes that Gov. Mark Dayton will tie the longest a Democrat ever served as Minnesota governor in consecutive terms when he retires on Jan. 7, 2019. (Ostermeier does not address the persistent talk from some pundits saying that the 68-year-old governor will resign before the end of his term, something the governor denies.)

Interestingly, in this often Democratic-leaning state, the party had not produced a governor for two decades before Dayton bucked a Republican trend in 2010 in his narrow victory over the GOP's Tom Emmer.

In his usual detail-oriented approach, Ostermeier points out that Dayton will end his two terms with eight years and five days in office, the same as Rudy Perpich served in his second hitch as governor. Democratic Gov. Wendy Anderson and Perpich in his first time as state CEO served eight years and one day.


Looking to 2018, several Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party names surface as potential governor candidates, at this early point including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul. Smith has at least one advantage now: Dayton is giving her a lot of travel time to all parts of the state, increased in recent weeks as his ailing back curtailed his schedule.

"With a party record at just a shade over eight years, the Dayton-Perpich mark is as much a sign of the Democratic Party's inability to turn gubernatorial victories into winning streaks across different nominees as how dominant Republicans have been in state politics in Minnesota over the last 150-plus years," Ostermeier wrote. "For while Minnesota Democrats have won consecutive gubernatorial elections seven times since statehood, none of these have involved different nominees."

Minnesotans, on the other hand, have elected Republicans 15 times to follow other GOP governors.

Ostermeier made no predictions about 2018, but said there is reason for DFL optimism: "By winning statewide races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and auditor last year, Minnesota Democrats were able to sweep all constitutional offices in back-to-back cycles for the first time in state history and now hold all statewide partisan offices for just the third time since statehood."

'Stop automatic tobacco tax'

Minnesota businesses want the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to snuff out a tobacco tax that increases automatically.

A coalition of business groups complained in a letter to Dayton about the tax, which bumped up the price of a carton of cigarettes a dime as 2016 began.

"Minnesota now has the seventh highest cigarette tax rate in the country," President Bruce Nustad of the Minnesota Retailers' Association said. "Prices this high are crushing our businesses."


Minnesota has two automatic tobacco tax increases, which Nustad called a "double-whammy" for businesses and consumers.

Tobacco accounts for 47 percent of sales for Minnesota Service Station Association members. Lance Klatt of the association said that ever-increasing tobacco taxes will drive more people to other states to buy the products.

"I've already seen employee layoffs and store closings and as the taxes keep increasing, you will see more people lose their jobs," Klatt said.

The coalition told Dayton, who supports higher tobacco taxes, that more than 1,000 jobs have been cut and $40 million sales tax on non-tobacco products was lost because people went elsewhere for tobacco.

Special session meeting planned

Some state lawmakers will begin meeting a week into the new year to consider three potential subjects of a special legislative session.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, has written to Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, asking for GOP members who would like to serve on working groups investigating black-white economic disparities, Iron Range unemployment benefit extensions and updating Minnesota identification cards to meet federal standards.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, also is appointing people to the three panels, which Bakk said likely will begin meeting Jan. 7.


The decision to establish the trio of working groups came out of a December meeting among Gov. Mark Dayton, Bakk and Daudt. The governor and Bakk appeared ready to go into a special session, but Daudt said some of his members did not think they need to return to the Capitol until the regular session beings in March 8.

Dayton originally suggested a special session to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers who are laid off due to temporary taconite mine closures in light of an abundance of cheap foreign steel. The racial disparity discussion arose after a U.S. Census Bureau report showed blacks badly trailing whites in economic gains.

The third potential topic would begin a process of bringing Minnesota into compliance with federal ID standards. With no change, Minnesota driver's licenses and other IDs could not be used to board airliners later this year.


Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

What To Read Next
Get Local