To fix a back problem, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is going under a surgeon's knife next week, which will keep him out of the public eye well into the New Year.
The 65-year-old governor's operation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Thursday will fuse a vertebra, Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Hume said. Dayton is expected to return to the governor's residence in St. Paul on Dec. 31 and then work from home for several weeks, canceling all public events through the first two weeks of January.
"He will be handling the day-to-day business of the state as well as trying to prepare his budget and tax proposal, just working from the residence," said Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci.
During recent weeks, Dayton has spent much of his time holed up in private meetings with commissioners and staff, working on his plans for the state's next two-year budget. Dayton's last public event was on Monday at the State Capitol. He had no public events planned through the rest of this year.
The surgery means that the governor will not be in the Capitol for the Jan. 8 start of the legislative session and will skip the traditional gubernatorial address at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's "session priorities" event on Jan. 9. Typically, as legislative sessions begin, governors provide public comment and answer questions from the news media. But that won't happen this year.
Dayton does not plan to delegate power to Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, charged with command if the governor is incapacitated during the process, Tinucci said.
Other Minnesota governors have undergone hospitalizations during their terms. In the summer of 2002, Jesse Ventura was hospitalized for three days to treat a blood clot in his lung. He was away from the governor's office for at least a week. Ventura did not delegate power to his lieutenant governor during that procedure.
The surgery on Dayton's lower back will "relieve the constriction in that part of the spine, called stenosis, and ... fuse a vertebrae there, which is shifting out of alignment," according to a statement from the governor's office.
Surgery is an option for patients when more conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and pain killers, are not effective, according to Mayo Clinic's website.
For years, Dayton has had a pronounced limp, which he has said was a result of a back problem. In 2011, he said the condition did not cause pain, and Tinucci said she has never heard Dayton complain of pain.
Tinucci said the question of whether Dayton has been on any pain medication to address the lower back constriction is a private matter. "That is between the governor and his doctor," she said.
The governor said on Friday that he had not yet discussed post-surgical pain medication with his doctors, she said.
Despite the back problem, Dayton, Minnesota's oldest governor when he was elected, said he is feeling in fine health.
"I feel good," Dayton said in an interview last week, joking that, "When I turned 65, a friend said, 'You don't look a day over 90.'"
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482