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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Interview: the LIBERAL Sen. Mark Dayton —
Friday 24 February @ 10:14:26
Not enough for some, too much for others
(Editor’s Note: Sen. Mark Dayton will be leaving office at the end of 2006; he announced his decision not to run again a year ago. We checked in with him.)
by Sid Pranke
Pulse: I read an MPR online version interview/article a few years ago and they addressed what was perceived as you keeping a lower profile in the Senate, and that you were trying to change that somewhat by doing more press releases, etc.
Dayton: “My recollection of the ‘lower profile’ point in time was right in the aftermath of Sen. Wellstone’s death. Paul was my good friend of 22 years, and also my colleague and mentor here [in D.C.] for the two years we were together. I was learning the ropes in the Senate at that time and Paul was one of those who advised me to be, to adopt a lower profile. He felt that was a mistake that he made when he first came in.”
the online encyclopedia, reported that your approval rating went up significantly
since you announced your decision not to run again. What do you make of that?
Dayton: [laughs] “I don’t know. I think people are very cynical
toward politicians, and maybe less suspicious of someone who’s seen as
not doing everything to get re-elected.”
Pulse: What’s next for you after you leave the Senate? Do you have
Dayton: “No I don’t. I’ll be 60 years old two weeks after
I leave office. I’m not collecting my Senate pension so I don’t
intend to retire. I want to find something constructive to do. I’m gonna
come back to Minnesota, but I don’t have any definite plans at this point
in time. I started my career with what I define as public service as a political
activist: an anti-Vietnam War activist back in the late ’60s, early ’70s
… so I’d come around full circle to go back to being a political
Pulse: I don’t know if you have heard any of this, but what do
you say to people who have expressed frustration with what they see as the Democratic
Party’s timidness in attacking the Bush Administration’s abuse of
power more effectively?
Dayton: “Part of it is the difficulty in communicating. We probably
need to do a better job at that. We have the disadvantage in the Senate—there
are 44 members of my caucus—the Democratic caucus, and we don’t
agree among ourselves. I was one of 23, including Paul Wellstone and one Republican,
who voted against the Iraqi War Resolution—so the majority of my caucus
voted in favor—and the majority voted in favor of the initial Bush tax
cuts which benefit the rich unfairly and have caused our financial problems.
We don’t speak with one voice, and in fact, some of the biggest failures
of the Bush administration have been enacted with strong Democratic support
... it’s been endless frustration, trying to raise issues, and having
the Republicans kowtow to the Administration—they refuse to question anything
that goes on … I can understand why people think we’ve been too
timid because they haven’t seen much from us. Some of that is our fault
and some is the fault of the Republicans who are just irresponsible as a separate
branch of government.”
I read your very strong statement against Alito’s nomination to the
Supreme Court, but I can’t recall, did you vote to filibuster?
Dayton: “Oh yes. I voted to filibuster, and I voted against the
Pulse: I ran into Marv Davidov [well-known local peace activist] last
fall and he was wondering out loud why ‘since Dayton has nothing to lose
because he’s not running again, why didn’t he speak out more strongly
against the Iraq War?’
Dayton: “I have spoken out as strongly as I could from the outset.
I called Condoleeza Rice a liar on the Senate floor. I opposed her confirmation
to Secretary of State … there is no good answer right now, given the situation
in Iraq, and I believe an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces would precipitate
a collapse of their government and their very fragile society. It would solve
our problem but it would leave the Iraqi people subjected to either anarchy
or a civil war or a Taliban-style fascist takeover. Staying is a bad choice—leaving
is a bad choice … the good decision would have been not to invade in the
first place … and not lying about the intelligence information …
I only have one vote, unfortunately.”
Pulse: You’ve heard of Alliant Tech and protesters who sometimes
trespass … do you have any comment on the defense they use when they go
to court for being ticketed for trespassing—that Alliant Tech’s
sale and production of depleted uranium munitions is a violation of the U.N.
charter, the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, etc. How does that kind
of argument play in Washington and what do you think of that?
Dayton: “I don’t know the facts of the situation to be able
to assess the validity of their claims. I respect people who express their First
Amendment rights and who take principled nonviolent stands against what they
believe are unethical and improper actions … I was opposed to the Vietnam
War—I participated with Marv Davidov in the very first demonstration of
the Honeywell Project, at Honeywell’s annual meeting in 1970, and voted
to remove my father from the board of directors of Honeywell. I wasn’t
arrested but was teargassed. I went to Washington and opposed the war, for which
I was named the only Minnesotan to then-President Nixon’s enemy’s
list, which I’ve always said they can put on my tombstone … I believe
lawful dissent is a right of Americans…”
Do you think Democrats will pick up seats in 2006 on the national scene?
Dayton: “I think if the elections were held today, they would—but
I always say a year is a millennium in politics, so we’re still two-thirds
of a year away, a lot can and will happen. The turbulent nature of the world,
post 9/11, post/Hurricane Katrina, I don’t have that kind of crystal ball.
The Republicans certainly deserve to lose seats in Congress, and I hope people
realize how destructive it’s been to have Republicans in Washington controlling
the White House, and the House and the Senate, and increasingly taking over
the federal courts—the country needs to restore a balance, because there
isn’t any accountability … I think people are seeing that with the
abuses of power [like] Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR … there’s
no accountability, no responsibility, no morality.”
Pulse: We’re like the United States of Halliburton under this Administration.
Dayton: [laughs] “Yes. And Vice President Cheney, the former CEO
of it [Halliburton] has been ramming these contracts through. And the subsidiary
of Halliburton called KBR has been cited by the Inspector General of the Pentagon
as having over $1.2 billion in questionable overcharges, bilking the American
taxpayers, over in Iraq, and they keep getting contracts and contracts in New
Orleans. It’s just greed, and the worst kind of immorality, and the Administration
just shrugs it off.”
Pulse: We did an article about the Halliburton-Iraq connection, and the
private military issue.
Dayton: “60 Minutes” just did a piece last Sunday. And to
his credit, [Sen.] Byron Dorgan [North Dakota], who chairs the Democratic Policy
Committee, has held eight different hearings now on the contracting abuses in
Iraq and Halliburton. The whistleblowers from the different federal agencies
that are trying to have their voices heard—couple have been fired for
doing so. [See Whistleblower
article.] We can’t get the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold
these kinds of hearings, and we’ve tried ... so it has to be done through
the Democratic Policy Committee, because the Republicans control [most] of the
Pulse: I was talking to some French political activists recently, and
they were confused about why we in the U.S. categorize Democrats as being on
the Left, when in France they are considered more on the right spectrum, with
groups like the Greens and the Social Democrats considered more Left.
“When I turned 21 in 1968 and was involved with the social movements for
social and economic justice—ending the Vietnam War and bringing about
a nuclear-free world ... if somebody had told me the country was going to shift
to the right as drastically as it has, I wouldn’t have believed it. And
so what’s considered liberal or left these days is so centrist compared
to what’s considered conservative, which is, often, just extremely, off-the-wall
reactionary, that it boggles my mind, and yet that is what’s occurred.
Newt Gingrich, after he became Speaker of the House in 1995, said that if Richard
Nixon were still in the House of Representatives, he’d be the most liberal
member of the House Republican Caucus. That’s a depressing thought.”
Pulse: Is the Senate what you thought it would be?
Dayton: “I had no illusions ...Washington is a cesspool. Political
favoritism and the domination of money and special interests, self interest.
I think my expectations were realistic when I came, and unfortunately they haven’t
changed. Like the Bismarck quote, ‘Those who like sausages and the law
are better off not knowing how either one are made.’ I’ve seen enough
bad laws being made around here....” ||
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