Mark Dayton is nine months from leaving office. His departure will mark the end of a political career that spans four decades and three elective offices — auditor, U.S. senator and governor.
Without question, his eight years as governor have had high points and low points. There is no single way to grade a governor's tenure, but one is to compare what Dayton said he'd do to what he did.
"I'm the one who said it first, I've been saying it the most and I'm the one who really means it: That I will raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans," Dayton said as he was running for governor eight years ago.
And he did. It took Dayton a few years, but he eventually enacted a new fourth income tax bracket of nearly 10 percent. He also imposed higher tobacco taxes, which he had campaigned against.
• Date is set: Dayton circles March 14 for State of the State
This was another mantra during his 2010 run.
"My commitment if I'm governor is that I will increase state funding for public E-12 education every year I'm governor. No excuses, no exceptions."
The infusions have been higher in some years than others. But when Dayton came in, all schools received at least $4,900 per student. Now that's closer to $6,200. He signed off on state-funded all-day kindergarten and won expansions of early childhood programming.
His critics say he hasn't demanded enough accountability for new money put in.
Dayton called for border-to-border broadband access as a candidate and quickly convened a task force to pursue the goal.
The latest statistics show about three quarters of Minnesota households have access to internet with download speeds of 25 megabits per second.
It's not for lack of trying. He's proposed lots of money for the effort, including a $100 million plan a couple years back that was whittled down.
There are countless other triumphs and letdowns.
He's preached the need for cooperation yet presided over a weeks-long government shutdown. He wound up in court over a decision more than once. And sometimes he retreated from prized proposals when things got bleak.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, had his share of run-ins with Dayton. But he's been heaping on the praise lately.
"He's done a great deal to stabilize the state, to make significant investments in things like K-12, all-day kindergarten and early childhood. He ought to feel pretty good about his time as governor and he ought to tout that some."
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, has been in the Legislature through five governors, starting with Rudy Perpich. While Limmer and Dayton are far apart ideologically, the senator from Maple Grove credited Dayton's direct approach.
"I think Mark Dayton came in with a very sincere approach to governing. He had his experience as a state auditor and as a U.S. senator. I think he brought that sincerity to the governor's office. I believe that has still continued to this day. I think he's been a loyal, sincere listener."
As Dayton starts his goodbyes, he's taking stock of a political career that could have easily just ended before it got going. That first race for Senate in 1982 ended in defeat. He referenced his battle scars when members of the Farmers Union came by his office recently.
"I learned my farm principles back at the knee of Farmers Union members back in 1981-82 when I was running for the Senate," Dayton said. "One farmer pulled me aside and said, 'Mark, we're all born with original sin, you're just born with more of it than the rest of us.' After four statewide campaigns, I have less original sin than I did back then."