Why Has Mark Dayton Picked Up the Ball for the Vikings?

Jan 25

(Originally published 1-25-2011)

The most perplexing development of Mark Dayton’s first three weeks in office is his decision to climb aboard the billion-dollar stadium express which is getting under steam at the State Capitol.  In the context of his other decisions  — appointing qualified state commissioners (a refreshing change after Tim Pawlenty’s two terms), getting a decisive start on expanding Medicaid services for poor Minnesotans and straight-talk on a number of other issues — his support for the stadium boondoggle is a head-scratcher.

Dayton could have — should have –left the burden of being Zygi Wilf’s bagmen to the majority Republican legislative caucuses that have made a voodoo religion out of worshiping business while slashing government spending. Reconciling those two goals when the subject is an opulent sports palace with a price tag of (trust me) a billion dollars by the time the roof is put in place will be next to impossible. For a DFL governor then, it’s a perfect spot to leave the opposition party in and watch them squirm. But Dayton, in effect, has saved the GOP from its own dilemma by appointing Ted Mondale, the Empire Builder, Light Rail Division, to be the new head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission — a public body charged with keeping the Metrodome in shape but which has shown a much keener interest for several years in putting itself in position to operate a new, sexier football stadium.

The first thing Mondale might have said, upon accepting the job, is that he will make sure the Metrodome gets repaired and up and running as soon as possible or that he will kick a number of fannies out of the Dome airlocks onto Chicago Ave. Instead, Mondale put on a purple cape, grabbed some golden pompoms and came on the scene echoing Dayton’s strangely urgent statement that the Vikings request to build a new public stadium “must be done this year.”

Zygi Wilf probably cried for joy, but Dayton, Mondale and the Democrats just stepped into a very deep hole, deliberately.

This year? A year when the state is facing the Pawlenty Debt Pile of $6.2 billion and Dayton is struggling to sell the Legislature some kind of tax hike for the rich without having to bulldoze the public schools? How on earth does a new publicly-financed stadium for the NFL — the richest, most socialistic pro sports league in the world (share the obscene wealth, is the motto) deserve to be on anyone’s priority list THIS year? And don’t swallow the soft-soap claim that it’ll only be a priority if the money can be rustled up without drawing on the state’s general fund. All public moneys come from the same pot — the public pocket. Isn’t that what the Republicans say? They’re right. But they don’t want to be blamed if Zygi blows. They don’t want to be responsible for passing an irresponsible stadium boondoggle, either. It was beginning to look like a real problem for them until Dayton and Mondale swooped in to effect a bipartisan rescue: GOP State Sen. Julie Rosen was so relieved she gushed her appreciation by saying  that the hardest parts of this problem can now be “put on the back of Ted Mondale.”

This may seem like leadership to Mark Dayton. It sure seems like a bail-out to me. Am I missing something? What?

(I am leaving aside for the moment the fact that Dayton also has linked a new stadium to the possibility of opening a new, state-owned casino near the Mall of America.  Worst. Idea. By. Mark. Dayton. So. Far.)

What Dayton should be saying is that the un-repaired and worsening wreck of the Dome is beginning to look looking like a deliberate effort to aid the new stadium drive by dereliction of duty.  If your garage looked like the Dome, the city would be writing you up for lack of maintenance and ordering you to raze the joint and clear the property.

Exactly what the Big Cigars are hoping for, I think.

“Big Cigars,” by the way, was the term employed back in the 1980s when a few Twin Cities newspaper columnists had the backbone to criticize the corporate interests who were jamming the Metrodome through the Legislature and abandoning Metropolitan Stadium and Memorial Stadium. Now, those lamented stadia have been re-replaced by Target Field and the U of M’s Totally Crappy Football (TCF) Stadium, at a combined public cost of almost a billion in public financing and the splurge is not yet over.

Is “outrage” too strong a word? Well, public opinion polls show a huge majority of the public is opposed to the Vikings deal that is shaping up. But the public is being punked. Sadly, the one person who might put a stop to this seems to have been rolled. Mark Dayton is on board. And — surprise, surprise — the first result is that the Vikings have become even more intransigent about how much money they might invest in the boondoggle: A quarter of the cost, and not a farthing more. Why should they budge? Christmas is coming.

Here we go. That breeze you are feeling? That’s the breeze you get when someone pulls down your pants.