Gov. Mark Dayton’s official portrait is now part of history at the Minnesota State Capitol. He didn’t want to be the star of his own official gubernatorial portrait, so he insisted that the building he led a coalition to renovate would be prominent. “I wanted it in front of the Capitol. I feel so good about it. I shiver every time I see it,” Dayton said.
The 40th Minnesota governor literally shivered through his portrait sittings, which required him to stand outside in the cold and snow to get it right. “We were out in the cold in January. In hindsight, maybe we should have waited until March,” Dayton joked. “The star of the show is the Capitol. Anybody wants a good supporting cast – I couldn’t do any better than that.”
Unlike other gubernatorial portraits packed with symbolism – like Gov. Jesse Ventura with a lit cigar, train, river and golf sand traps – this governor wanted a straightforward approach. “It’s just the Capitol and me,” Dayton described. His sons found local artist Paul Oxborough and practically had to force their father the participate in the project. At the packed portrait unveiling, Dayton thanked the artist, admitting, “As everyone in the room knows, I’m not easy.”
Dayton had speculated during his two terms in the state’s top job that maybe he’d just have a Polaroid picture hang on the wall, or maybe his dogs should be featured instead. The governor’s dogs, two German Shepherds, are too big to live with him now in his apartment in Minneapolis, so they’re living with the person who helped care for them when Dayton was in residence at the governor’s mansion on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul.
“If he had a better subject maybe he’d have a better portrait,” bemused the always self-deprecating former governor about the portrait. Moving the focus away from just him and instead sharing the spotlight with the Capitol helped Dayton come around to participating in the process. The restoration of the People’s House is among the proudest parts of Dayton’s legacy. “We did it so well. The commission was bipartisan, nonpartisan, $338 million with some adjustments. Nobody ever tried to make political hay or hit somebody else on it and the public. I never heard a word of criticism.”
Looking at contemporary politics, the Democrat is concerned – and he’s especially disappointed in the President. “He’s dragged the public discourse down into the cesspool,” Dayton said of Trump. As a former U.S. Senator, Dayton says he’s ambivalent about impeachment. “As a practical political matter, I think it sets Trump up to be a victim, rallies the base. We [will] have an election. The people should decide whether he continues or not, but I also respect the Constitution,” he said.
Dayton says he’s staying out of candidate endorsements and politics at this point. The department store heir to the Target and Dayton’s fortune is about to begin a new volunteer position as Executive Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. The former governor is also enjoying his free-time with his family, especially his grandsons. “I can’t get enough time with my grandsons, they’re such a joy.” Dayton had several surgeries while in the office, but said, “I’m not in any pain. I still have problems walking, I use a cane. My legs get fatigued.”
After a lifetime of public service at age 72 – from roles as a state agency commissioner, state auditor, U.S. senator and governor – leaving all of that behind hasn’t been easy. “It was a hard time, going from as engaged as I was, going from wonderful people to work with and suddenly – boom – it’s all over.” Dayton’s conclusion is classic. “The reality is, I was the oldest person to become governor, the previous oldest was a person who died in office. At least I made it through!”
Revisit former Gov. Dayton’s final days in office with two reports from Almanac political reporter, Mary Lahammer: