Kids can’t come to governor, so governor goes to the kids

/ 20 March 2012 / jennifer

Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press, March 20, 2012 –

MANKATO — Gov. Mark Dayton said it’s one of the parts of his job he enjoys the most — interacting with kids.

And the kids seem to like it, too, enough that Dayton once joked with an aide that the best way to boost his re-election chances might be to reduce the voting age to 5.

The connection was apparent Tuesday at Garfield Elementary in North Mankato when about 270 sixth-graders gave the governor a standing ovation after he took more than 30 minutes of their questions before hustling off to Franklin Elementary in Mankato to do the same.

Dayton made the offer to visit the schools after getting word of a Free Press story about the theft of $2,300 that was set aside in part to subsidize the sixth-graders planned trip to St. Paul in May.

“If the kids couldn’t come to the Capitol, he wanted to bring a Capitol experience to them,” said Tom Schueneman, assistant to the principal at Garfield. “It was a very gracious offer.”

Schueneman said the field trips will happen on May 7 and May 14, one way or the other. The Sertoma Club has scheduled a fundraiser later this month to help recoup the lost money. But even if the club is unable to make its standard contribution, the local Parent Teachers Organization will find a way to cover the transportation costs.

Dayton delivered a $150 check from Rep. Terry Morrow, the St. Peter lawmaker whose district includes Garfield, saying he hopes it inspires others to give. But he focused most of his time on answering every question the kids threw at him.

How many pardons can the governor issue to felons? asked Amber.

“You don’t need one yourself, do you?” asked Dayton, who explained that he makes up one third of the pardon board, along with the Supreme Court chief justice and the attorney general. “There’s no limit on the number of pardons that can be issued, but I can’t do it myself.”

Why are there three branches of government?

Dayton said the nation’s founders were mostly from England and were tired of being ruled by a monarchy.

“There was no one else and the king decided,” he said. “If the king decided ‘Off with your head,’ it was ‘Off with your head.’ … They didn’t want a king or a queen, so they set up a government where nobody had all the power.”

A boy named Neil wondered who checks the state-mandated tests students have to take?

The governor explained that a private company designs and scores the tests, but he thinks there’s too much standardized testing in schools.

“Fewer tests and more learning would be a better solution,” he said. “What do you think of the tests? Should we get rid of them?”

“Sure!” Neil answered.

A girl wondered if there are parts of the Capitol where only the governor can go. Dayton couldn’t think of any place like that and said there aren’t many places where he’s prohibited from going either, except maybe the House and Senate chambers.

“I wouldn’t go there without their permission. I don’t think anything else is — well, the women’s restrooms are off limits. I don’t know of anything else.”

Is the Capitol always quiet?

“It’s sometimes very loud,” Dayton said, mentioning a recent rally against a proposed constitutional amendment. “That’s the great thing about democracy, that people have the right to be heard, the right to tell their elected leaders the truth that they believe. And they don’t have to worry about being thrown in jail or disappearing and never being seen again.”

What made you decide to run for governor?

Dayton mentioned his two adult sons.

“Someday soon, I’ll have grandkids,” he said. “When they look me in the eye or all of you look me in the eye and say, ‘Well, what have you done to make this state better or this country better or this world better?’ I want to be able to look you in the eye and say, ‘I did my very best.’”

A former state auditor and U.S. senator, Dayton told the kids his career can provide a lesson in not getting discouraged by failure.

“I lost the first time I ran for the Senate, won the second. I lost the first time I ran for governor, won the second,” he said. “One thing I learned from that is persistence and perseverance. … If you find something in your life you really want to do and believe in it, stick with it. And if it’s tough going, that’s part of the lesson of life.”

Handed a Garfield “Grizzly Pride” T-shirt as a parting gift, Dayton donned it to cheers from the kids and gave high fives to the students in the bleachers on his way out the door.

“On to Franklin,” an aide said to him. Dayton looked at his new T-shirt and decided his constituents at the school across the river might not be so filled with Garfield’s “Grizzly Pride.”

“I better take this off before I get there,” he said.