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Gov. Dayton Accused Of 'Pandering' At Breakfast With School Kids

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Republican candidates for governor Wednesday piled on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton for "pandering" after he served breakfast to children.

The criticism came after the governor showed up at a local school cafeteria to highlight a new state program to make sure all children get a healthy meal at school -- even if their parents can't pay.

It's a well-trodden photo opportunity: school children with a smiling governor, and a legislative success story.

"No child should be starting the school day without a nutritious breakfast," Dayton said.

The Minnesota Legislature approved funding this year to guarantee free school lunches to children. And starting next year, there'll be free breakfast for kindergartners.

But some Dayton critics say the governor's appearance was more about politics than policy.

"He's out there saying he's an advocate for students," said Scott Honour, a Republican in the running for governor. "I'm saying that he's not."

The businessman said Dayton could help students more by requiring teachers to take basic skills requirement tests.

"He's catering to union interests instead of helping families give their kids the best chance for an education here in Minnesota," Honour said.

Another candidate called the breakfast "pandering," claiming the governor should have fixed the school food program last year.

"Now that it is a political year, now that it's politically uncomfortable for him -- which is a pattern -- he decides he's not only going to fund the program, but he's going to go out and talk about it," said Kurt Zellers, another Republican hopeful for governor.

Dayton, who later attended a ceremony for military families, reacted, saying his opponents responses were "tacky" and "desperate."

He says political critics won't change him.

"Anything I do for the next five months will be questioned by somebody," he said. "Of course, if I did nothing, that would be questioned, too."

Wednesday's kerfuffle is a sign of the campaign quickly heating up. And it's not necessarily just between the governor and Republicans.

The sharp elbows will be coming from Republicans running against each other as they try to get attention as the August 12 primary gets closer.

As for the school lunch program, the Legislature unanimously approved it.

Dayton says that if he is re-elected, he will introduce a guaranteed school breakfast program, too.

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