In December of 2009, Mark Dayton took a huge risk. He was attempting a political comeback, running for a seat being vacated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Dayton was considered one of the front-runners; an heir to the family that built Target, Dayton had served as state auditor and U.S. senator. He was well-known throughout the state and was obviously capable of winning a statewide race.
Dayton was hiding a secret, however, one that had flared up during his time in the Senate, some time after he decided not to seek a second term. In a different time, the secret might have been enough to destroy his political career.
He was an alcoholic and he suffered from depression.
On December 27, 2009, the Star Tribune ran an article detailing Dayton’s struggles with substance abuse, which landed him in the Hazelden clinic in 2007, and with depression, which he treated with medication.
Dayton did not go into detail about his mental health issues, and in stoic Minnesota, most of the state didn’t feel they needed to know. Despite running in the 2010 wave year, Dayton managed to defeat State Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, to become the first Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) governor in a generation.
It would be nice to say that Dayton’s struggles are now a non-issue, that Minnesotans have accepted that people who battle addiction and people who suffer from depression are just like anyone else fighting a disease. It would be nice to say that, but unfortunately, at least some Minnesotans are taking a different approach.
A Laughing Matter
Minnesota’s House District 56B was newly redrawn for the 2012 race. It’s a competitive district, made up of the south part of Burnsville, an aging suburb, and a sliver of Lakeville, a conservative exurb. Republicans took the House in 2010, and if the DFL wants it back, this is the type of district Democrats will need to win.
The DFL settled quickly on former State Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, who represented part of the district from 2007 to 2011. Republicans, however, had to find a new standard-bearer after Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, chose to move to an adjoining district.
At the district convention in August, Lakeville School Board member Roz Peterson listed her qualifications for her party’s nomination. She hit the standard points a Republican would — she’s pro-gun control, pro-family values, anti-taxes. She’s endorsed by the local Chamber of Commerce. She’s electable.
As she wound up her speech, Peterson finished with a call to arms.
“We need to make sure that this seat remains conservative,” Peterson said. “And we also need to ensure that Dayton has balance in power, because we all know that he’s mentally unbalanced.”
The room erupted into appreciative laughter and applause. Peterson ultimately earned her party’s endorsement.
Image Credit: Office of Gov. Mark Dayton
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