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Upset over paintings, Dayton walks out of meeting

Minnesota state Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City argues on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in favor of returning paintings about the Civil War and American Indian events to the governor's office. A state committee agreed that the Civil War art should be returned when a Capitol renoevatoin is finished. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)1 / 9
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, left, listens as Administration Commissioner Matt Massman updates a state commission on the status of a Capitol renovation project on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Minuites later, Dayton walked out of the meeting, saying Republicans were playing politics in proposing Civil War paintings be returned to the governor's office. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)2 / 9
Minnesota state Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood listens to discussion about what art should be displayed in the state Capitol during a Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, state commission meeting. Gov. Mark Dayton walked out of the meeting he leads, saying a Dean email urging the commission keep Civil War paintings in the governor's office was a political ploy. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)3 / 9
"The Battle of Nashville" by Howard Pyle4 / 9
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton walks out of a meeting, that by law he chairs, saying a move to return Civil War painting to his office was politically motivated. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)5 / 9
Booklet from when the Minnesota state Capitol building open shows four Civil War paintings were supposed to be in the governor's reception room. The issue has become a controversy, and on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, a state commission voted to return them to the room when a Capitol renovation is finished. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)6 / 9
Minnesota state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer argues in favor of making changes in how art is displayed in the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. With him is Rep. Pauyl Torkelson of Hanska. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)7 / 9
He joined in applause honoring Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer on his last Minnesota State Capitol Preservaton Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, but minutes later Gov. Mark Dayton walked out, complaining that an effort to return Civil War paintings to his office was a political ploy. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)8 / 9
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton walks out of a meeting, that by law he chairs, saying a move to return Civil War painting to his office was politically motivated. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)9 / 9

ST. PAUL—Gov. Mark Dayton walked out of a meeting he chairs Tuesday, Nov. 29, over a battle about whether Civil War paintings should hang in his office.

"It has been a deeply distressing issue for me," Dayton said, claiming Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, wishes to return six paintings to the governor's office once the state Capitol building restoration finishes next year is rooted in political ambitions.

Early in the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission meetings, Dayton said that with an email to members about the painting Dean attempted "to hijack the operation of this commission for your own political purposes, for your governor campaign in 2018."

Dean, who gained most of his support from fellow Republicans on the commission, said he was trying to honor Civil War veterans. Supporters of the Capitol building that opened in 1905 said they constructed it in honor of the veterans.

The representative, a former House majority leader, is known to be considering a governor run, but on Tuesday would not comment on that.

An hour after Dayton left, the commission decided by a voice vote to "strongly suggest" that the Minnesota Historical Society decide to return six Civil War paintings to the governor's office public area, four in his reception room and two in an entryway.

While law gives the society final say in such matters, Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said after the meeting that she would consider sponsoring a bill to force the society to return the paintings where they hung before restoration began.

Nelson took a booklet to the meeting from when the Capitol opened in 1905, showing that while the Civil War paintings were not completed they were destined to hang in the governor's reception room.

Dayton said that he will not lobby the society to vote his way. The society's executive committee already has voted against returning the paintings, but will further consider the issue in coming days.

The Capitol reopens after the renovation on Jan. 3, but Administration Commissioner Matt Massman said that everything will not be done by then, so walls in the governor's office could remain empty of paintings.

The Democratic governor said he does not object to the Civil War paintings, but thinks the reception room, one of the most visited areas of the building, needs to represent more of Minnesota's history.

"Let's make the decision as a partner of this larger view of what this room will look like," Dayton told reporters after the meeting.

Many state leaders already decided two reception room paintings called offensive to American Indians should be removed.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who has done extensive writing on Civil War and Indian wars, said: "The bloodstains of history cannot be washed away by removing a picture."

He called for paintings that have hung in the reception room to be returned. Later, he hinted he could support legislation to require that.

Urdahl said the Civil War and Indian paintings should be in the Capitol's most important room, which to him is the reception room where governors host dignitaries, conduct negotiations with legislative leaders and meet the media. The reception room is on most public Capitol tours unless it is occupied.

Commission member Peter Hilger said that he favors keeping the Civil War paintings in public view. Otherwise, he said, how would the public see "the horrors that war wrought?"

Others, however, argued that the paintings could get more public prominence in another area of the Capitol.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, supported Dean's argument to keep paintings in the reception room.

"I have a very strong feeling about these paintings..." said the speaker, who also could be a 2018 governor candidate. "It is very important to me."

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, supported Dean and Daudt: "Our Civil War soldiers probably saved the United States of America as we know it."

Minnesota soldiers played a prominent role in the war.

Dean raised Dayton's ire in his original email when he said: "The Capitol should not be designed around the likes and dislikes of any temporary tenant."

In an earlier letter, Dayton said he favored paintings that "are more welcoming and also more broadly representative of our state's history."

After Tuesday's dust-up, Dayton, who says he will not run again, said it is time to move on to more important things, such as working together to slow soaring health insurance rates and to prepare a two-year state budget.

"There are far more important things to the people of Minnesota," he said, adding that he left the commission meeting because "it wasn't a productive use of my time."


Capitol celebration in August

ST. PAUL—The Minnesota Capitol building reopens Jan. 3 after being mostly closed for three years of renovation work, but a formal celebration comes Aug. 11-13.

State Administration Commissioner Matt Massman made the announcement Tuesday, Nov. 29, saying that visitors to the renovated Capitol will "have a jaw-dropping experience when you go in the door."

While most of the work is finished, Massman warned members of the Capitol Preservation Commission that some construction will remain through late summer.

The outside and inside have undergone a comprehensive renovation that nears $310 million. Some areas look much like they did before, just spruced up, but much of the Capitol has been changed to open up space for public meetings and other uses. Plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electrical and other systems have been upgraded.

Some events will note the opening on Jan. 3, the day when the House and Senate begin their 2017 session. Also that day, the state Supreme Court plans to meet in its Capitol courtroom.

Construction officials will maintain control of the Capitol until Dec. 31. Many Capitol workers plan to spend the New Year's weekend getting ready for the Legislature's return.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.