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Lest We Forget, Governor Dayton Deserves Blame Too

Of all weeks, this was probably the worst one for my sister to have to leave town and leave me watching her almost-two-year-old. Right now I'm typing and listening to every little yawn and sigh on the baby monitor. It's a challenge to keep up with how screwed the Minnesota Vikings have become in a very short amount of time.

See, I had finally finished a magnum opus of a stadium article about the pro-Minneapolis conspiracy that was undermining the Minnesota Vikings' proposal to build a stadium on the 430-acre TCAAP site in Arden Hills. It was filled with all sorts of facts that put Governor Mark Dayton's supposed site neutrality in question. That type of writing takes awhile to research and add links to--I like to prove I'm not making things up. But before I could post it my sister left town and I have spent the last couple days singing the ABCs, analyzing diaper rash, and watching my all my hard work become irrelevant as Minnesota's leaders have done their best to mess up any hopes of getting a stadium bill passed before the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires.

Although yesterday's political bombshell that Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch will not support a special session of the Minnesota Legislature to deal with a Vikings stadium bill seems to put the blame for messing things up squarely on those two alone, I maintain that Governor Dayton has a hefty share in this mess.

Governor Dayton has been very quick to say how committed he is to keeping the Vikings in Minnesota and finding a stadium solution. Even while he was on the campaign trail he repeated commitment to the idea of a new "people's stadium" that would suit the Vikings' needs and give the people of Minnesota an indoor facility for all their sporting needs--kind of like the Metrodome only newer and with a better chance of not collapsing in a heap of Teflon and snow.

But while Governor Dayton has said that he wants to see a deal get done and that he's site neutral, he's been steadily doing things that would suggest he's about as neutral toward a stadium site as I am about Dancing with the Stars (J.R. Martinez all the way). No matter what he says, Dayton has been trying to get a stadium in Minneapolis to the detriment of a Vikings-supported plan in Arden Hills, which is what I wrote about in the article that I never got to publish.

All the time and effort he has put into sabotaging a stadium in Arden Hills and finding a way to build something in Minneapolis has taken away from solidifying any political support for any stadium. Currently, legislators have no idea what site they would be voting on, or how it would be funded from both the local equity partner (since voter referendums for sales tax increases seem to be back in vogue) and the state (electronic pulltabs, or racino--no one is happy). That's kind of a big deal.

What do I mean about Governor Dayton's pro-Minneapolis bias being a problem in presenting a single, supported bill before the Minnesota Legislature in a special session? Here's a short list.

  • Every time Governor Dayton has mentioned the Arden Hills site he has added uncertainty to the stadium discussion by saying he'd support a stadium in "Arden Hills or Minneapolis." It's like Dayton is trying to brainwash us by simply saying that Minneapolis is still in play over and over again. That ain't neutral, it's wishful thinking because the Vikings have repeatedly said they are working solely with Arden Hills. Mentioning Minneapolis doesn't make sense unless Dayton's trying to advocate it as a stadium site.
  • Minneapolis has not worked on a proposal with the Vikings, something that would make sense since the Vikings are the ones seeking a new stadium and will be paying the biggest chunk of the total cost and yearly upkeep. Minneapolis mayor, R.T. Rybak, came up with a few proposals without talking to the Vikings and, until this last month, claimed the city had no funding options available to be a local equity partner. Yet the governor continues to bring the city into all discussions on the stadium.
  • When he commissioned a site feasibility study on Arden Hills, Governor Dayton put the Metropolitan (Met) Council and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC) on the task. What he kept quiet about and what none of the local media mentioned is that neither of those groups is what you would call impartial. The Met Council is appointed by the governor and "serves at his pleasure," as a planning group for the Twin Cities metro area. The MSFC is headed by someone appointed by the governor, but the other six members of the group are appointed by, wait for it, the Minneapolis City Council. How unbiased do you suppose a group appointed by a city that stands to lose the Vikings (Minneapolis) would be in analyzing whether another city (Arden Hills) is a better location for the team's stadium?
  • Minneapolis, as my politico friend reminded me this weekend, is the center of democratic power in Minnesota. Governor Dayton is a DFL politician that won his office by a relatively small margin. Politically, he probably can't afford to piss off the largest contingency of DFL power in the state. The chances that the DFL leaders in Minneapolis aren't putting the screws to Dayton seems unlikely. Although the city of Minneapolis appeared remarkably uninterested in talking to the Vikings about a stadium until the team partnered with Arden Hills, now the city is making as much noise as a cat in heat and the claws are definitely out--Minneapolis city leaders will use whatever political clout they have to keep the Vikings from going to Arden Hills, including leaning on a weak DFL governor.
  • Rather than streamline the process of bringing a stadium bill before the Minnesota Legislature after saying he wanted to call a special session just before Thanksgiving, Dayton asked for all stadium bills to be on his desk last week and that then he would present his proposal. He hasn't said whether those other proposals would be subject to the same scrutiny that the Arden Hills proposal was, and it would seem that there isn't/wasn't time to assess the feasibility of these other sites and proposals the way the Arden Hills site was. I find that incredibly hinky. Simplifying things would have been to focus on getting support for one proposal, not adding several more proposals to the mix just weeks before you intend to call a special session. Since the Arden Hills proposal is already before him, I'm just going to wager a guess that Dayton's proposal has something to do with building in Minneapolis.

I agree with my esteemed colleague Ted that Kurt Zellers is being a jerk about this stadium situation and his showdown with Governor Dayton bears a striking resemblance to the "I'm-more-macho-than-you" showdown that subjected Minnesota to a government shutdown this summer when the governor and legislature couldn't agree on a budget for the state. That said, Dayton isn't making decisions that make sense. If he wants a Vikings stadium bill to pass, then he needs to focus efforts with the Vikings and lawmakers on creating a single proposal and getting support for it. Dicking around trying to drum up Minneapolis proposals that don't have support from the Minnesota Vikings not only wastes precious time, but it creates dissension and leads people to believe he doesn't know what he's doing. That is the last thing you want when trying to pass a stadium bill during a recession.

Honestly, I don't believe that Dayton does know what he's doing. Maybe he thinks he does, but it just doesn't seem like it. I have long felt that Governor Dayton's a rather likeable puppet and someone else (possibly even a committee) is pulling the strings. Hopefully, whoever is pulling the strings will also pull his or her head out of the sphincter where it currently resides because the puppet is about to become the governor who lost the Vikings.

If you want to contact Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and tell him that you want him to stop holding whiny press conferences and to instead commit to a single proposal and get the support to help it pass, his contact information is listed below.

Governor Mark Dayton

The Office of the Governor

130 State Capitol

75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

St. Paul, Minnesota 55155

Telephone: (651) 201-3400

Toll Free: (800) 657-3717

Minnesota Relay: (800) 627-3529

Fax: (651) 797-1850