As Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his annual State of the State message tonight, he can expect a statewide audience will pay close attention to his plans for Minnesota.
The election-year speech, which comes unusually late in the legislative session, could preview some of the themes Dayton will use as he campaigns for re-election.
But Dayton also will be watched closely by the Republicans who aim to deny him a second term.
Three of the Republican candidates for governor will be sitting in the House chamber when the governor speaks, among them Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville and Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove. Former state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall will be there as the guest of his lieutenant governor running mate, state Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville.
In his speech, Dayton is likely to highlight how he and the DFL-controlled Legislature have worked to pass significant legislation. Those efforts include raising the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016, legalizing same-sex marriage and raising income taxes on the top 2 percent of filers. During the last two years Democrats also funded all-day kindergarten and increased school spending.
Thompson said he's sure the governor will "try to paint a rosy picture," but Republicans have a different assessment of the state's progress under a Dayton administration.
"Obviously we're looking at an election just over six months from now," Thompson said of Dayton. "So I'm sure he is going to try to emphasize those things that he views as positive and not talk about the things that have harmed our state, that have been done over the last couple of years."
Thompson said if he's elected governor, he would use the speech to highlight the things he wants to fix. His list includes problems with the state health insurance exchange, a lack of high-wage job opportunities and education disparities.
Zellers has a similar list. Zellers described the state of the state as "precarious," particularly for businesses.
"It's that loss of potential productivity, the greatness that is being left aside because the government just won't let go of the reins and won't get out of the way of these folks," Zellers said. "So, that would be my vision, getting government out of the way, off the backs and out of the pockets of all Minnesotans."
Seifert offered a slightly more upbeat assessment of the current condition of Minnesota. He did not do the same for the current governor. Seifert said things are working "fairly well" but could be better.
"We are one of the very few states that raised taxes in the last couple of years," Seifert said. "I believe that will impact the creation of jobs and innovation and business development. So, the business development and jobs and economic growth that does take place is despite Mark Dayton and his polices, not because if it."
Businessman Scott Honour, who also hopes to challenge Dayton, said he believes the governor's vision for Minnesota is the opposite of his own. Honour said government doesn't need to get any bigger or intrude any further into people's lives.
"I think our state is underachieving its potential. I want to put in place plans, programs that will see this state create economic growth and improve the opportunity for our students to have a career or go to college," Honour said. "We need to focus on those big things that will get this state back on the right track. I think the governor's vision will continue to take our state in the wrong direction."
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, said he thinks the current state of Minnesota is "okay" but moving in a troubling direction unless changes are made. Johnson said he too wants a better business climate and improvements in public schools. He also wants a thorough evaluation of welfare programs.
"We have people in need in this state," Johnson said. "There are programs that actually help them. A great part of my vision is to figure out which of those programs are, and really fund them well, and stop funding some of these other things that aren't doing a thing for people."