Is the Republican Stadium Fumble, Gov. Dayton’s Gain?

Everything can turn into a political battle and nothing generates more political news than the new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. But as the race for the Republican nomination for governor continues to develop, the issue of the new stadium has the potential to be one of the marquee issues which separates the Republican candidates; it also may be one the strongest issues for Gov. Mark Dayton. I’ll disclose at the beginning that my family has been season ticket holders to Minnesota Vikings since they arrived in Minnesota and I’ve been a supporter of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. 

Sen. Julie Rosen

Sen. Julie Rosen

State Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), who was the chief-author of the Vikings stadium bill, has yet to announce if she will be a candidate for governor. Sen. Rosen labeled her bill “the best stadium bill we’ve had on the table, ever” and the bill passed the Minnesota Legislature and was signed by Gov. Dayton.  But the “best stadium bill…ever”, required additional work, as the new gambling taxes generated by the expansion of gambling which was expected to pay for the state’s portion of the new stadium, specifically electronic pulltabs, come in well-below projected levels. 

Sen. Rosen also serves as the co-chair of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, which hasn’t met in over five months, but is scheduled to meet this Thursday, in Room 123 of the State Capitol. One of the primary functions of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities is to “oversee the operating and capital budgets of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.” During the last five months, there have been numerous stories in the media about legal problems facing the owners of the Minnesota Vikings in New Jersey. But the commission specifically formed to provide oversight of how public money is spent by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority on the new stadium hasn’t met in over five months – yet it is co-chaired by a Republican who may want to run for governor and authored the Viking’s stadium bill.  

Earlier this month, State Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights), who is a member of the Legislative Commission on the Minnesota Sports Facilities, raised concerns that the commission had not met in months. Sen. Rosen told KSTP-TV, “there is no point in having a meeting until we have something to review.”  By failing to call a meeting of the commission, Sen. Rosen completely passed her oversight responsibility to Gov. Dayton and other legislators and missed a golden opportunity to be pro-stadium, while also being seen as an advocate for taxpayers getting the best deal from the Minnesota Vikings.

While Sen. Rosen wasn’t calling meetings of the Legislative Commission on the Minnesota Sports Facilities, some legislators were calling for more information and new legislation related to the new stadium. State Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Lindstrom), who voted against the final stadium bill, called for additional transparency in the Vikings deal, specifically for more information on how much the Vikings will make from personal seat licenses and naming rights for the new stadium. State Rep. Barrett also wants a new funding solution because “e-pull tabs failed miserably.”  Also, State Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) has called for a complete do-over of the stadium deal, rather than trying to fix the deal signed into law. But again, no meetings of the Legislative Commission on the Minnesota Sports Facilities to discuss any of these issues. 

The Republican candidate with the most consistent and clearest articulated position against funding for the new Vikings’ stadium, backed up by a voting record, is Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville). Thompson who announced in strong language that he wouldn’t support the state paying for a new stadium and he voted against the stadium legislation.   Former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Zellers’ position and messaging on a new Vikings’ stadium has been inconsistent at best.  On May 3, 2012, Speaker Zellers went on KFAN and said that while he wanted the stadium bill to pass, he would be voting no. Speaker Zellers added “hopefully it will pass and hopefully the governor will have a chance to sign the bill.” The next day, Speaker Zellers reversed on his comments, saying his “head got ahead of my mouth” and that he didn’t support the stadium bill, didn’t want it to pass and he would vote no. 

Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson was not serving in the Minnesota Legislature when the stadium bill passed, but Johnson drafted a blistering op-ed on the stadium deal which appeared in the Star Tribune. Johnson wrote: “[b]uilding Zygi Wilf a new stadium was a populist piece of legislation that the governor and politicians of both parties decided last year simply had to get done — regardless of the details.” Johnson was taking aim at Gov. Dayton and Republican and DFL legislators who passed the stadium bill and it seems he’s laying the groundwork for pointed criticisms of Sen. Rosen’s leadership, should she decide to run for governor.     

Gov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton

In the political arena of the stadium debate, Gov. Mark Dayton has occupied two important positions: he’s been the chief advocate for getting a new stadium built and keeping the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota. Yet, he has also been the chief watchdog and critic of the ownership of the Minnesota Vikings, providing the oversight needed to ensure the final details on the stadium package are the best possible for the taxpayers and fans of the Minnesota Vikings.  No Republican directly involved with the construction of the stadium deal signed into law, has done anything close to the amount of work of Gov. Dayton in the last few months to scrutinize when needed, analyze when needed, and criticize when needed.  A new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings is being built – that is reality.  Gov. Dayton knows the work isn’t done and he continues to fight. My question is where are the Republicans?  Apparently, in London.    

UPDATE: I received the information below from Scott Honour’s campaign on the new Vikings’ stadium. 

This was from a Facebook question on the stadium financing:
Unfortunately, we won’t have an opportunity to undo what’s been done, but rather we’ll have to clean up the mess left by the Governor and the D and R legislators that created the Vikings Stadium deal. I would look at reversing the unfair cigarette tax increase (along with every other Dayton tax increase) and fund our obligation by cutting spending in other areas.
Follow up: So, would you have voted for the stadium?
I wouldn’t have voted for the deal that was on the table last year.  I’m very skeptical of government trying to play the role of venture capitalist with taxpayer money.


  1. I have to slightly disagree. This neglects to mention that the bill authors and Gov Dayton — supported by the Minnesota Vikings — took revenue generating initiatives such as naming rights and others off the table prior to any real bill development/debate. Calls for the Vikings to contribute more dollars were “non-starters.” In addition, when lawmakers said ePulltabs would not generate the anticipated revenue, Commissioner Franz was very confident in saying it would. Trying to solve the problem is the right thing to do — and good PR. But let’s not forget Gov Dayton role in creating it in the first place.

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