Dayton gears up for end of his term

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., has four years down and two to go.

Dayton, who announced last month that he won’t run for re-election, has little time to accomplish what he set out to do when he was elected.

“If I think of the hopefulness that I felt when I began four years ago Ö at this point, I’m very disappointed I haven’t accomplished what I wanted,” he said in an interview with The Minnesota Daily.

Dayton’s list of priorities includes pushing the Democratic Party’s agenda, getting more money for education and advocating ethanol as a substitute for gasoline.

Those aren’t his only priorities, however. He said whatever is important to Minnesota is important to him.

Mike Erlandson, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman, said he believes Dayton’s last years as senator will be productive.

He said that because Dayton does not have to worry about re-election, the senator will have the freedom to continue being outspoken and lead from the heart. That is what Dayton did when he announced he would not run again, Erlandson said.

“That’s something I look forward to and I think will serve our state well,” he said.

University professor Kathryn Peterson, a political scientist, said that without electoral pressure, Dayton’s experience during the next two years might be different from what it would be if he were running again.

“He’s both helped and hindered by the lack of the electoral restraint,” she said.

Dayton won’t have to face his constituents in re-election, Peterson said, and that might be liberating.

But Dayton might lose power and clout with his party leaders, Peterson said. Though the Senate is characterized as individualistic, compared with the House, she said, Dayton might face a tough time passing his own legislation.

“I think Democrats in the Senate might look to other Democrats who will be there for a while to take lead of issues important to the party,” she said.

A piece of legislation Dayton currently is pushing is an amendment he co-authored to increase Pell Grant awards.

President George W. Bush announced in his 2006 budget request that he wanted to increase the maximum Pell Grant awards $500 during the next five years.

Dayton said that the maximum needs to be increased now. But he said he wants more than that. He wants Pell Grant awards, work-study and loans to each contribute one-third to paying for college, he said. Dayton said Pell Grant awards currently contribute 18 percent.

“We tell your generation to get the best possible education, which you should, and the most education, which you should, so that you can benefit yourself and benefit our society, and then we don’t help you pay for it,” he said.

Dayton said he will offer “amendment after amendment” to increase funding for education.

But Dayton said he has only one vote in a Senate that is moving toward an increasing

Republican majority, which makes it nearly impossible to accomplish what he believes is best for Minnesota and the country.

“But a majority of people in this country don’t share my view, and you know that’s the nature of democracy,” he said. “I respect the process of democracy, even if it means I come out on the short end.”

Dayton said that although he doesn’t have to worry about re-election, his integrity will hold him accountable to constituents.

Tony Richter, the College Republicans chairman, said that is exactly what he intends to do. He said he will continue to hold Dayton accountable even though Dayton has only two years left in office.

Richter said Dayton was elected to represent Minnesota, and he will make sure the senator continues to do his job.