How Seifert fares will test if GOP is ready to govern

WestWordsWEBIn the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Gov. Mark Dayton and also to sit in on a Q-and-A session with one of the Republican candidates seeking his job, Marty Seifert.

The conference call with Dayton came while he was in his car returning to the Mayo Clinic to have his body cast refitted after recent hip surgery. The governor reported being well on the way to recovery because for the first time in more than a year he can take a step without pain.

The encounter with Seifert was at a meeting of about 20 Republicans, so instead of editors doing the asking, it was Republicans.

Seifert has a good chance of being the GOP nominee for two reasons. First, he is the only non-metro candidate in the race, which contrasts sharply with Dayton and his new running mate, Tina Smith, both of Minneapolis.

Second, “buyers’ remorse” is prevalent in some Republican circles because the party opted for Tom Emmer over Seifert in the 2010 gubernatorial endorsement contest.

“In 2010,” Seifert said, “the mood of the party was ‘Let’s burn the capitol down,’ and that’s not me.”

The party went with the take-no-prisoners style of Emmer, and Seifert’s supporters want a do-over after Emmer’s inept campaign led to Dayton’s win.

Still, it remains questionable whether the GOP mood has changed, because Emmer is now the odds-on favorite to replace Michele Bachmann in the 6th Congressional District.

Voters will get an indication if the Republicans have taken the edge off by whom they select to run for governor. Seifert, a former House Minority Leader, received the most votes during a straw poll at precinct caucuses last month, but he also won the 2010 straw poll before losing to Emmer.

Both parties go through periods when they turn inward, and fight over the purity of their own candidates’ beliefs. When they turn inward, that inevitably leads to losing until they finally refocus on what they agree on and what may get their candidates elected.

That’s what the Democrats did in 2012, and then, in a spasm of boldness rarely seen in this state, they enacted virtually all of their campaign promises while Republicans sulked, complaining that the electorate must have been uninformed.

The two interviews helped focus on what both sides see as the biggest issues come this fall.

Taxes and spending are up there, as usual and Dayton said he is most proud of being able to repay the state’s school districts their full allotment of state aid.

Health care is also high on both lists, but Dayton doesn’t defiantly defend MnSure after its stumbling roll-out. He seems intent on fixing the glitches..“The first months were a nightmare,” he said.

The GOP does get a glimmer of hope, however, because so many DFLers are dismissing the president’s promise that turned out to be untrue, “You can keep your health care plan if you want to.”

Seifert said, “140,000 Minnesotans lost their health care and premiums are up double-digits. … They’re not all Republicans, but they’re angry. I run into them every day.”

Those who think only the government knows how much health insurance people need have a commonality with those who think the electorate is uninformed: The greater public does not take kindly to poorly focused insults.

A sleeper issue that Seifert raised is the new Vikings stadium. I’ve said for years that it was a “loser” issue, in that no matter what happened, politicians should aim to be on the losing side. Either the taxpayers were going to build the Vikings a new stadium or the team was going to leave. Either way, there was going to be second guessing. The bill landed on Dayton’s desk, and he signed it. Those decisions are the responsibility that come with the job.

However, the funding mechanism, electronic pulltabs, has proven to be a debacle, and personal seat licenses (Four seats on the 50-yard-line will cost $38,000 in licenses and $16,000 for the game tickets in the first year.) gives Seifert a certain resonance when he says, “So who is giving millions to billionaires? Not me.”

A third issue is the broadly defined environment. Democrat environmentalists are fighting the PolyMet copper-nickle mining plan in northeastern Minnesota, while Republicans are fighting for new jobs up there. Seifert said, “After treating it, the water out of PolyMet will be five times cleaner than municipal drinking water.”

Meanwhile in southeastern Minnesota, silica mining with fracking is also an issue. Dayton said, “In Wisconsin, they let unmitigated devastation occur. Everybody (in Minnesota) got the word to shape up or ship out” adding, “The economic gains are not worth the risk to that area.”

A third eco-issue for this area is the DFL push for more oil train regulation. All it would take is a derailment dumping several tankers into the Mississippi, and we could have our own Exxon Valdez disaster.

A clear indication of whether the Republicans are ready to govern will be revealed by whom they endorse. The early polls make Dayton the favorite regardless, but Seifert could make it interesting. Choose someone similar to Emmer, and the most pain the governor feels in 2014 will have been pre-Mayo.

Tom West is the editor and general lmanager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or email at