Dayton blasts Johnson at union event

Members of the labor union, AFSCME, rally on behalf of Mark Dayton's campaign for governor. Tom Scheck/MPR Photo

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton used an appearance before a state labor union convention to criticize the policies of his Republican opponent. In his most political speech of the election cycle, Dayton suggested Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson would roll back union rights, slash government spending and cut income taxes on the state’s top earners.

Dayton also criticized Johnson for running away from the tea party now that he needs the support of independent voters. He went through a list of times Johnson appeared at tea party events before winning the GOP primary in August.

“The tricky thing about modern campaigns is that the words you say in April show up in September,” Dayton quipped.

The audience of several hundred members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 cheered during Dayton’s speech. The union was one of the first to back his first campaign for governor in 2010. Dayton thanked them for that initial endorsement and for their help during the 2010 campaign and the 2011 budget battle that resulted in a state government shutdown.

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“Without you, I wouldn’t be here today,” Dayton said.

Dayton’s appearance before AFSCME comes just days after Johnson held a news conference suggesting Dayton’s support of efforts to organize child care providers is political payback to the labor unions that helped elect him in 2010. Dayton characterized the allegation as reckless and wrong. He said he could make the same argument of Johnson because Johnson wants to roll back Dayton’s income tax hike on top earners.

“I think that’s a very bad idea but I’m not going to accuse him of a payback to the rich Republicans who are helping to finance his campaign,” Dayton said.

Dayton also reminded the union of Johnson’s support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the effort to remove collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

Dayton and Walker were both elected in 2010, and have taken their respective states in different directions. Dayton raised taxes while Walker cut them. Walker rolled back bargaining rights for unions while Dayton supported efforts to unionize more workers.

During his speech, Dayton cited statistics that show Minnesota is doing better than Wisconsin. in several categories, including unemployment rates, annual per capita income and gross domestic product.

“Anyone want to trade Minnesota for Wisconsin?” Dayton asked rhetorically.

Johnson said he does support many of Walker’s policies including his efforts to cut taxes and eliminate state regulations. He also said Wisconsin’s recent job numbers are favorable.

“In 2014, since Dayton’s budget went into effect, you’ll see that Wisconsin is really doing quite well compared to Minnesota,” Johnson said.

Johnson also defended his courtship of the tea party, saying he sought out the support of that group like many of the other groups in the GOP tent. As he said many times during his campaign, he needs the backing of every Republican group to win in November. Johnson said Dayton’s criticism is part of a concerted effort by Democrats to paint him as an extreme member of the Republican Party.

“They poll tested the word tea party and apparently found that those words aren’t popular and that’s what they’re going to tag me with,” Johnson said. “I have said over and over again that I have sought the support of every faction of the Republican Party including the tea party.”

Johnson also stood by his allegation that Dayton supported the unionization of child care workers as political payback to the labor unions that backed him.

“The press conference I had a couple days ago struck a nerve,” Johnson said.

Both candidates are expected to campaign heavily over the next few days. Johnson is scheduled to appear in southwestern Minnesota over the next few days. Dayton is scheduled to appear at a DFL volunteer event in St. Paul on Sunday. He’s scheduled to appear at fundraisers in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday.