Mark Dayton has held many positions in government: Commissioner, Auditor, U.S. Senator and Governor. But the one he liked best was his last, serving as the chief executive of the state of Minnesota. As a wealthy department store heir, he never had to work, but chose to work after watching Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. He said he could never be comfortable in his comfortable life again and vowed to dedicate his life to public service. His father taught him, “the only thing worse than a bum is a rich bum,” and he was determined to do something meaningful with his life.
I have covered Gov. Dayton for more than 20 years, beginning with his first unsuccessful run for governor back in 1998, when third-party pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura eventually won office. With little fanfare in 2000, Dayton walked through the Capitol Press Corps with news that his second marriage had failed and that he was going to run for a seat in the United States Senate. He won, but his battle with alcoholism returned. In 2010, he opened a campaign for governor and admitted that he was medicated for depression. He said he’d raise taxes on the rich and he did. He won.
He continued to struggle with his health, having back and hip surgeries; his latest surgery landed him in the ICU, and he was hospitalized for more than a month. But again Dayton fought back, returning to public life for his final weeks in office. His intellect, humor, honesty, authenticity and selflessness were unique qualities in a long-time politician.
For more on Mark Dayton’s legacy of public service, check out Mary Lahammer’s interview with his sons, Eric and Andrew. Also, discover more about the political changing of the guard that unfolded in Minnesota as a result of the 2018 mid-term elections.