“Oohs”, “Ahs” and applause were quick to come when the official portrait of former Governor Mark Dayton was unveiled in the State Capitol Rotunda Thursday night as hundreds looked on. The painting depicts the former governor in front of the renovated Minnesota State Capitol on a snowy winter day — an unusual meteorological backdrop for an official portrait, but also emphasizing Dayton’s key role in the major refurbishing of the seat of Minnesota’s government. Dayton told an audience of hundreds it’s remarkable in an era of partisan rancor that the 300-plus-million-dollar project was completed in a cooperative partnership. “Our success gave me faith that when the cause is great enough and the stakes are high enough, we could pull together and make it work. That’s the prerequisite for a viable democracy. It’s also the requirement for its continuation,” he said.
Dayton added in times like these, it’s easy to believe the country’s divisions are unprecedented and unchangeable — but noted it’s happened before: “Despite flaws and failures, generations of Americans have created and sustained the most advanced and successful form of self-government the human race has ever devised. It’s worth preserving and enhancing.” Dayton said that is the larger aim to which he’s dedicated 50 years of public service.
Dayton, often self-deprecating during his decades in the public eye, thanked portrait artist Paul Oxborough for his patience and perseverance. Audience members chuckled when Dayton mentioned Oxborough’s reassurances that no subject likes his or her portrait: “He graciously tolerated my endless suggestions until I finally realized that the portrait’s deficiencies were not with the artist, but with the subject.”
Laughter also echoed in the Capitol when long-time Dayton confidante, former Lieutenant Governor and now U-S Senator Tina Smith, told of her former boss’s resistance to having any painting at all. “He didn’t want a portrait,” Smith said. “He threatened that, if forced, he would make the picture be of the dogs.” Smith lauded the former governor as “that rare creature — a humble public servant.”
Governor Tim Walz, a teacher and coach himself, heralded the former governor’s work on all-day kindergarten saying, “The emphasis that Mark Dayton put on our littlest Minnesotans is a legacy that will quite obviously and very truly live on forever. So for that I am incredibly grateful.”
The one partisan note in Dayton’s speech came after he thanked Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan for “their outstanding leadership,” adding, “I feel so fortunate to not be in President Obama’s ordeal of watching his accomplishments denigrated and destroyed by his successor.” But Dayton went on to say about the Republican head of the Minnesota Senate, “I want to pay my respects to my friend, the Senate majority leader, Paul Gazelka, with whom I could always disagree honestly and honorably.”
Dayton ended his speech by asserting that he’s not the only one in the portrait. “All of you are right here in with me…. I thank you for being here today and I thank you so much for enriching my life.”