How Dayton's disclosure will affect his campaignby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The race for Minnesota governor now includes the issue of how public candidates' personal matters should be.
DFLer Mark Dayton disclosed this weekend that he's long battled depression, and that he relapsed in his recovery from alcoholism late in his only term as U.S. senator.
Dayton calls both conditions a "small part" of who he is, and insists neither would affect the job he'd do as governor. But at least one observer says the revelations are bound to become an issue in the campaign.
Dayton's disclosure came this weekend in a column in the Star Tribune newspaper, a column he later showcased in an e-mail to supporters.
"I'm telling people the truth about myself," Dayton said in an interview with MPR News. "It's a part of who I am. I felt that people had the right to know it about me."
Dayton says the disclosure itself is a testament to how good he feels.
"As I've traveled around the state this last year campaigning, I've felt healthier and stronger and better about myself than I ever have, and I think that's part of what's brought me to this place where I can make this disclosure," said Dayton. "And I look forward to the next year to prove to Minnesotans why I'd be the best person to lead the state in the years ahead."
Dayton says he's long battled what he calls a mild form of depression, which manifests itself through sporadic bouts of fatigue. He says he's been successful treating it through a mix of medication, diet, and exercise.
Dayton, who has been a recovering alcoholic since 1987, also revealed that he had a relapse during a "brief period" at the end of his Senate term.
Dayton said he went to Hazelden for treatment in February 2007. Dayton didn't say when the relapse happened, only that it occurred sometime after he announced in February 2005 that he would not seek a second term.
Dayton says he's been clean and sober since, and neither disease ever affected his work as senator and wouldn't affect his work as governor, if he's elected.
There's been little public reaction to Dayton's disclosure from the other candidates for governor. Ten other Democrats and seven Republicans are running. None issued statements about what Dayton had to say.
But political analyst Todd Rapp is certain it will become an issue.
It'd be one thing, Rapp says, if Dayton were already the nominee, and the party could rally around him. But with 11 Democrats duking it out for the party nomination, Rapp says there are enough strong candidates in the race that voters might skip over Dayton for someone else who's equally strong -- but without such a disclosure.
"He did this absolutely right, not just for himself but also for the political debate... to bring this out now instead of letting it be some 'gotcha' story down the road," said Rapp. "But the fact that he did it right doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be successful."
For Sue Abderholden, it should not be an issue. Abderholden heads the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. No one thinks twice, she says, about candidates with physical handicaps, but there's still a stigma around mental illnesses.
"We all have our bad days, and you can have your bad days too, if you have depression. But it doesn't mean you can't function at all," she said.
Abderholden says the fatigue Dayton gets from his depression shouldn't matter, either. That point was made years ago, she says, when then-Sen. Paul Wellstone revealed he had multiple sclerosis -- another disease that lists fatigue as a side effect.
As for Dayton, he says voters deserve to know about his struggles -- but he's not telling everything. He won't say, for example, whether his relapse affected any medication he might have been taking at the time, or how much he drank when he relapsed.
He says he's already revealed a lot about his personal life, and he calls some things "properly private."
He says if it becomes an issue in the campaign, he can convince voters his struggles will make him a better leader.
"I think my experiences made me a more compassionate person, and better able to relate to the difficulties others are experiencing," said Dayton. "Public service is a great antidote to any kind of depression, because it puts me in touch with other people."
Dayton will get a sense of voter sentiment next month, when he formally launches his campaign with a trip to all of the state's 87 counties.
Tom Weber serves as co-host for MPR News' The Daily Circuit.