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Dayton comes to Willmar running and swinging

WILLMAR -- Minnesota has grown by 200,000 people since Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office, but there are 33,000 fewer people working today.

Minnesota has joined Wyoming, South Dakota and rural Louisiana as among the only states allowing four-day school weeks due to a lack of educational funding.

No matter where he goes, gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton said he hears from people upset with the state of affairs in Minnesota he described. "I'm running against cynicism and distrust that has built up against government,'' said Dayton to a small gathering Tuesday afternoon at Deidra's Expresso Café and Bakery in Willmar.

Running he is: Dayton's visit to Willmar and Kandiyohi County marked his 63rd stop in an "87 Counties in 87 Days'' tour of the state. He's clocked more than 6,000 miles on the tour so far.

He is among 12 DFL'ers campaigning for governor, although Dayton is not seeking formal party endorsement. Dayton has said he plans to run in the primary regardless of party endorsement at convention time.

He took plenty of jabs at the current, lame duck governor. He cited the declining number of jobs and took sharp aim at the governor's $1.8 billion funding "shift'' away from education as examples of how the state is failing in its role.

Dayton began his working career as a teacher in New York City. He pledged that he would increase spending for education every year if elected governor.

"No excuses. No exceptions,'' he said.

The candidate would raise more revenue by taxing the wealthy more.

"We have it upside down,'' said Dayton of our tax structure. He said the current system puts the greatest burden on the least affluent individuals and small businesses. He's also looking for new sources of revenue. In response to questioning, the candidate said he would support opening a state-owned casino in the Mall of America.

Dayton is a former U.S. senator and former state auditor and served as a director of economic development under DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich.

Dayton said jobs, education, health care and cuts to social services have been the issues most frequently discussed at his meet-and-greet stops across the state.

The visit to Willmar brought more attention to social service and mental health issues than others, he said. Dayton visited the Prairie Lakes Youth Detention Center before hosting the café gathering. He started his presentation by stating that he been shaken to witness the arrival of a handcuffed and shackled youth to the facility.

He said the state has a responsibility to provide help up front -- especially mental health services -- to prevent the problems that can lead to homelessness or prison.

Dayton charged that we have failed the moral test of government as defined by Hubert Humphrey: " it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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