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Dayton listens to tour officials before fishing

Gov. Mark Dayton (standing) joined local legislators, Rep. Paul Gazelka (left),

Gov. Mark Dayton talked tourism Saturday at a roundtable discussion at Iven’s on the Bay before he joined thousands of anglers on Gull Lake.

In his first trip to the Brainerd area since his inauguration, Dayton said he supported post-Labor Day school openings and asked tourism representatives for their strategy on where tourism advertising dollars would be best spent.

Joel Carlson from the Congress of Minnesota Resorts noted urged Dayton to advise his education commissioner to carefully weigh requests from school districts that want to be exempted from the state’s law requiring schools to open after Labor Day. Carlson said if too many districts receive exemptions the tourism industry will die from 1,000 cuts.

“I’m a traditionalist,” Dayton responded. “I believe in starting school after Labor Day.”

Dutch Cragun, owner of Cragun’s Conference and Golf Resort, complained that television reporting that put state employee conferences at outstate resorts in a bad light and were hurting business and “scaring the bejeebers out of your employees.” Even with a bidding system, Cragun said state employees are reluctant to meet at resorts.

“It’s not easy to win a bid,” Cragun said.

The governor, dressed in a blue plaid shirt and wearing a Nisswa Fire Department cap he had been given that morning, was accompanied by John Edman, his newly reappointed director of Explore Minnesota. He talked briefly about his stop at S&W Bait Shop to buy equipment.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I got the long filet knife.”

There were no political knives evident at the morning roundtable with the governor urging both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who attended to address the crowd of about 50 people. He even went so far as to fetch coffee for Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd. The polite tone was reciprocated.

“Gov. Dayton means what he says and says what he means,” Gazelka sad. “I know  you’re genuine in what you say.”

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, chair of the Capital Investments Committee, said he requested a meeting with a staff member in the governor’s office and it was set up within 48 hours. He thanked Dayton for the speed with which he was conducting business.

Dayton reflected on a similar tourism he had arranged in the area while he was a candidate — one with considerably fewer participants.

“It’s amazing what winning an election does to your social life,” he said.

Dayton noted that other states’ tourism advertising budgets were considerably bigger than Minnesota’s. He said the budget to promote the Wisconsin Dells alone surpasses Minnesota’s expenditures.

Despite a bleak state fiscal future, Dayton reminded the tourism representatives that Gov. Rudy Perpich acted counter-intuitively by spending more on tourism advertising when Minnesota was coming out of a tough economic time.

“This is a more severe budget situation than I’ve ever seen in Minnesota,” he said.

The governor asked people to tell him where they would advise spending money for maximum impact if a slight increase were granted by the Legislature.

Mark Ronnei said keeping Minnesotans in Minnesota for vacations was important. He urged Dayton to be a leader for tourism.

“Our business is coming back,” Ronnei said. “Keep us in mind. You get more press than most of us. Stay here. Meet here. Travel here and promote.”

Little Falls Mayor Kathy Vanrisseghem said her city is in one of Minnesota’s poorest counties and talked of how cuts to the Minnesota Historical Society had almost brought about the closure of the Lindbergh house and center.  She also said she would like to see a 38-mile link to the Paul Bunyan, Soo Line and other bike trails which would be called the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail.

Bike trails were also on the mind of Jenny Smith of Cycle Path and Paddle of Crosby who spoke of the Cuyuna Lakes Trail and the June grand opening of the International Mountain Bike Association’s trail in the Crosby area.

Mark Kavanaugh of Kavanaugh’s Resort also serves on the Legacy Steering Committee, the panel that plays a role in allocating the three-eighths of one percent addition to the sales tax voters supported recently. He said trails were a passion of his and the Legacy funding will spend $15 billion over the next 25 years on trails.

Alan Gunsbury of the Quarterdeck Resort told Dayton private resorts can’t compete with casinos and the state has  to wake up to the harm being done to the tourism industry.

Bob Schlichte of Grand Casino Mille Lacs said the casino brings many jobs to outstate Minnesota. He said 90 percent of the vendors it uses are from Minnesota and half of that number are from outstate Minnesota.

“It’s all part of a partnership of tourism,” he said.

Also attending the session were Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, and  his predecessor, former Rep. Al Doty, DFL-Royalton, Crow Wing County Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, Brainerd Mayor James Wallin and the governor’s fishing partner for the day, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860