“Seen these Midwestern governors?” asks a political commercial posted online earlier this week.
And yes, of course we have seen them. Ad nauseam. In a 30-second TV spot from Citizens for Rauner that’s been saturating the airwaves, Holcomb, Walker and Greitens sardonically thank Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for blocking Rauner’s agenda — thereby, they say, boosting their state’s economies.
Well, more than one governor, technically, depending on how you define the Midwest. But yes, the absence of Dayton, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and progressive icon, is conspicuous and illustrative.
His is a story that Republicans don’t like to tell.
He inherited a $6.2 billion two-year budget deficit and a 6.9 percent unemployment rate in 2011 when he succeeded Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In his first term he was able to pass upwards of $2 billion in new taxes, more than half of which targeted the top 1 percent of earners.
Dayton also advanced a nearly half-billion-dollar jobs bill, increased the minimum wage and indexed it to inflation, expanded all-day kindergarten and increased funding for both early childhood and higher education.
Republicans predicted an exodus of jobs and business.
Instead, Minnesota has thrived compared to Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois. It’s added 34,200 private-sector jobs since January, more than twice the number of any of the other four states despite being the smallest by population. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the group — 3.7 percent, according to the most recent state-by-state economic snapshot issued by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress; the highest median household income — $70,200; and a balanced budget with over $1.5 billion in reserves, according to Dayton’s office.
The 43-second union-backed ad mentions these successes, but doesn’t mention that, in this group of states, Minnesota has the best recent wage growth, the highest gross domestic product in the past year and the lowest percentage of people living in poverty or without health insurance.
CNBC recently ranked Minnesota third in its Top States for Business study — Indiana was 14th, Wisconsin 21st, Missouri 22nd and Illinois 31st — and USA Today placed it second in its ranking of best-run states.
Dayton’s job-approval rating is at 52 percent, according to Morning Consult’s Governor Approval Rankings, which were released Tuesday. On that list he’s ahead of Rauner (30 percent), Walker (44 percent) and Greitens (49 percent), and just behind Holcomb (53 percent).
Yes, rankings are subjective, the public is fickle and economies can rise and fall independent of the tweaks of elected officials.
Most of Minnesota’s successes have been concentrated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, according to University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs, leaving the more rural parts of the state resentful. Dayton’s party “is losing its working-class strongholds, which we saw when Donald Trump came within a point and a half of winning the state last year.”
The Illinois Working Together ad “doesn’t tell the whole story,” said veteran political reporter Pat Kessler of WCCO-TV Minneapolis when I asked for his review.
Dayton, who is not running for re-election, “has been at an impasse with Republicans since he lost his legislative majorities in 2014,” Kessler said. “He really hasn’t gotten anything done in three years.”
History will recall the Dayton years as “a qualified experiment in classic liberal economic social-welfare policies,” according to David Schultz, a political scientist at Hamline University in St. Paul. That experiment “not only did not hurt the state but it improved Minnesota in many ways,” he wrote in an email. The result “offers strong support for … pursuing the type of liberal agenda that many Democrats seem to want to walk away from.”
The conclusion to the new ad puts this thought more succinctly: “Remember,” say the words on the screen, “we don’t have to join the race to the bottom to move Illinois to the top.”
Change of Subject