Shakopee Valley News: Was Dayton really heckled?

Shannon Fiecke
Shakopee Valley News
May 1, 2013

The morning after a town hall forum at Shakopee High School, Gov. Mark Dayton called the audience “rude,” comparing the group to a junior high class.

“I thought it was kind of a juvenile type of behavior,” he told the state press corps. “There was an undercurrent of rumbling and people shaking their heads as soon as I talked.”

Media reporters – who weren’t in attendance – had reported that Dayton was heckled by the Shakopee group and the audience was “raucous.”

However, to some in the conservative-leaning audience – who supported Dayton when a man from Winona refused to stop talking – this didn’t appear the case.

In fact, the audience was laughing at Rep. Michael Beard’s expression when Dayton remarked that lawmakers are underpaid. It was during this exchange that a young man from Shakopee shouted out that legislators are part-time.

This appeared to be what spurred Dayton to remark, “Please let me finish. I’ve been all over the state and I’ve never had people behave this rudely. If you want to say something, raise your hand.”

Dayton may have misconstrued the audience laughter as directed at him.

Although the young man’s remark was the only “heckling” observed by a Shakopee Valley News reporter seated at the front of the auditorium, others said there had been jeers in another section of the audience.

While most attendees were respectful, there was a small group making loud remarks and acting disrespectful, local attorney Kevin Wetherille commented on the Shakopee Valley News Facebook page.

“There is a difference between disagreeing and being disrespectful, and unfortunately there was both last night,” he said.

Shakopee resident Erik Radtke, a local Republican activist who had politely asked the governor a question about his budget, hadn’t noticed this.

“I was there & Gov’s comment seem 2 come out of nowhere,” he Tweeted.

“You think?” Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke responded on Twitter. “It felt rude at times from the stage. You know me, I love a good argument but crossed line occasionally. [sic]”

Later in the day Tuesday, Tabke offered his final thoughts on the topic in his blog.

“There was a very small minority of folks whose behavior reflected poorly on the rest. The governor’s comments were aimed solely at the folks being ‘rude’ or ‘juvenile,’ not an entire audience or city.

“The short, edited video [of the meeting] going around right now is exactly the reason so many people loathe politics and have so little faith in government. It is being used as a tool simply to tear one person down and not to prop everyone up. It happens in both parties and I’m frustrated it happened in Shakopee and want no part of this childish game.”

Tabke said those on stage heard jeers from some in the audience and some people were also making faces.

Dayton’s videotaped remark was published by the Star Tribune, which reported that Dayton considered the audience the “least respectful” of those he’s seen traveling the state.

A message seeking clarification from the governor’s press secretary wasn’t returned today.

Dayton told the press corps today that people interrupted him and wouldn’t stop their presentations, although he noted that when one man kept going “on and on” the audience applauded Dayton’s intervention.

However, the comments and questions throughout the evening had largely been respectful, although one Prior Lake woman didn’t like the governor’s response when she couldn’t get him to answer what her “fair share” of taxes ought to be. He had told her the middle-class was paying more than the rich and that wasn’t fair.

The only instance of object rudeness observed by a Shakopee Valley News reporter was when a man from Winona wouldn’t stop talking about frac sand mining (frustrating Dayton and the audience) and when the Shakopee man yelled that legislators are “part-time.”

Thomas Erickson, executive director for the conservative Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which posted a short video of the governor’s remarks, said he did so because he thought it was “newsworthy” that the governor’s rebuke was out-of-place.

“I’m surprised that everyone seems to be saying it was a rowdy crowd, when that certainly wasn’t the case,” Erickson said. “There was no heckling. People were maybe shaking their heads. There was certainly no booing.”

Radtke, who observed Dayton while working on the Tom Emmer campaign, opined that the governor was probably affected by displays of disagreement within the Republican-heavy crowd – perhaps a small group of young naysayers seated within his vantage-point – and was unable to get his focus off that.

“He’s extremely sensitive to sensory things,” Radtke said. “His handlers should know better…. It wasn’t a friendly audience for him, but for someone to say we were rude, I feel that is out-of-line and unbecoming of the governor’s office.”


Around 100 people came to hear Dayton Monday night at the town hall meeting where he shared the table with Tabke and the local Republican legislative delegation.

Conservatives dominated the hour-and one-half question-and-answer period, but the discourse was largely polite with Dayton disagreeing with their sentiments that higher taxes would drive businesses from the state.

Dayton said the rich pay less in taxes overall, and taxes are just one part of the equation for businesses’ decision to locate here. He said Minnesota is outperforming other states economically, and he disputed the notion that Minnesota is such a high-tax state, noting it ranks 15th for total state and local taxation.

The audience was overwhelmingly polite until it grew restless with a man who drove up from Winona and refused to halt his long diatribe on frac sand mining.

Many of the questions – or comments – regarded the governor’s proposal to raise taxes on the top two-percent income earners and other tax-raising proposals at the state Capital.

One woman read off two pages of proposed tax increases, but Dayton told her the list was outdated. He said his dropped tax plan would have expanded what’s taxed, but lowered the sales tax overall and also allowed property tax reductions.

Asked what he’s proposing to reduce from the budget, Dayton said a lot was cut last biennium, including a 14 percent cut to higher education.

A Scott County social worker spoke of increasing caseloads caused by local government aid cuts and applauded the governor for his proposal to tax top earners more.

Meanwhile, local Republican activist Erik Radtke asked if the governor’s proposed budget for education, which raises funding for colleges and early childhood education, includes a pay-back of the remaining school funding shifts. It doesn’t, Dayton answered, but any surplus by law would.

Lee Larson from St. Gertrude’s Health and Rehabilitation Center spoke of the difficulties in retaining and recruiting nursing staff due to a four-year freeze on state funding for nursing home care. The governor’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson concurred and said the governor’s proposed 2 percent rate increase is a first step for improving compensation.

Others talked of a need for transportation infrastructure improvements. Dayton said a 5-cent-a-gallon tax increase won’t generate substantial revenue and he thinks Minnesotans would support a comprehensive funding package if the state showed exactly what it would go for.

Shakopee resident – and onetime legislative candidate – Bruce Mackenthun complained to the governor that his wife, a daycare provider, might be forced to join a union.

Dayton responded that the unionization discussion only pertains to child care providers who take government dollars.