Mark Dayton: ‘I hope that I can earn the support of African American voters’

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

The DFL candidate for governor responds to Black issues

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton last week met with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder editorial board. During the question-and-answer session at the MSR offices October 20, Dayton addressed several key issues and topics, beginning with why Blacks in Minnesota should vote for him on November 2.

“I hope that I can earn the support of African American voters,” said Dayton, citing his 35 years of public service, including a term as U.S. senator. “I will work on being the next ‘jobs’ governor in Minnesota [and] help to put people back to work all over the state.”

How then would he address the growing Black unemployment problem, which in the Twin Cities has been reported to be at least twice the rate of Whites?

“If I am elected, I would have an economic summit on North Minneapolis and
work on the revitalization of that community, deal with the [high rate of] foreclosures in that area with legislators, and improve the educational opportunities for all our school children.”

Is it the governor’s responsibility to create jobs? “It has been estimated that a billion-dollar state bonding bill finances the construction projects, and those projects create 28,000 jobs,” Dayton said.

“Those are jobs that didn’t exist.” He also said he supports job training programs “to help people get those opportunities as a partnership between the public sector and the private sector.”

On state construction projects such as transportation, which historically have been slow to hire Blacks, Dayton said, “If there are state laws that say that they should do so [hire more Black workers], I will enforce those laws.”

He will work with MnDOT officials to “follow the laws that are on the books.

If there are projects that get state funding, such as highway construction and other projects that have public dollars, [the workforce] should reflect the diversity of Minnesota.”

Dayton has advocated increased funding for education, including early education programs. How will this help close the current achievement gap between Black and White students, which is one of the worst in the U.S.?

“When I talk to experts,” Dayton responded, “they would say that early childhood education starting very young, which includes parental support as well, is the best way to address the achievement gap.”

He also supports funding for full-day kindergarten statewide. Education “can’t stop at kindergarten — it needs to go on,” noted Dayton. “We also need a department of education that is not so obsessed with administrating some 61 tests on children between third and 11th grades.”

Would he support school districts “suppressing tenure” for Black teachers, especially in urban areas where they are often laid off due to low seniority before working the necessary three years to earn tenure? “I see the big part of the solution is for the state to increase funding for our public schools so that they are adding teaching positions rather than laying off positions.

I promise that I would increase state funding for K-12 education every year that I am governor.”

Dayton also supports school districts having more autonomy in staff decision-making. “A bad teacher ruins the classroom, and a bad principal ruins the school,” he said. “Every child in Minnesota deserves a good teacher and a good principal. I will do whatever necessary…to get rid of teachers who are not performing or being effective teachers, or principals not being effective principals.”

Asked to explain his “tax the rich” plan to help solve the current state deficit, Dayton pointed out, “We are short $6 billion in revenue, and half that money goes to education, and another 30 percent goes to health and human services — that’s 80 percent of the budget.

“My proposal would apply to less than four percent of Minnesota income earners.

It would be actually married couples filing jointly [making] above $173,000 a year, and individuals above $150,000 a year. According to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the top income earners in Minnesota pay a smaller percentage in state and local taxes than anyone else. I just think that’s unfair.

“No one likes paying taxes, but I believe people are generally willing to do so when they believe it’s fair,” Dayton continued. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think it was right for Minnesota.”

What measures would he propose to help remove barriers for small Black businesses in obtaining loans? “That should be the purpose of [state] government…to make capital available where it wouldn’t be available otherwise,” said Dayton. “The public sector needs to partner with the private lender to [help] provide the start-up money to expand, or whatever the needs are.” He added that “people should be put in place to run those programs in order to reflect diversity.”

What would he do to address some of the current criminal justice issues that
uniquely affect Blacks, especially in conviction and incarnation disparities?

Dayton noted that the public defender system has been “ravished” by state funding cuts. “People [should] have qualified representation, and I would support bringing sufficiency back to the court system as well as the public defender [office] so that we do have justice as much as humanly possible.”

On improving relations with Blacks and other people of color in Minnesota, Dayton said he would adopt a “not in our state” philosophy when it comes to racism and discrimination and “use the moral authority of my office wherever [there are] bigotry and racism attacks on people in Minnesota.”

Finally, if he is elected, will Blacks be seriously considered for key positions in his administration, including top policymaking roles?

“I have not offered a position to anyone other than my running mate,” responded Dayton. “But it definitely will be a cabinet that reflects the full diversity [of the state] and certainly will include African Americans. Absolutely.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to