Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he has plans to celebrate Thanksgiving in St. Paul after a monthlong Mayo Clinic stay following post-surgery damage to his lungs.
In a conference call with reporters from his hospital room, the governor said he planned to return to the governor’s residence on Wednesday. The final weeks of his term have been marked by another round of health problems after two lower back surgeries on Oct. 12 and 15 brought on complications.
“The doctors can’t pinpoint precisely what caused the inflammation in my lungs and the resulting damage to them,” Dayton said. He said his lung capacity is recovering and he is using supplemental oxygen less.
Dayton said apart from the times he was under anesthesia — during the two surgeries and a follow-up procedure to clean out infection — he was always conscious and the procedures haven’t affected his cognitive function.
The governor said he has been conducting business remotely. Some of his senior advisers, including Chief of Staff Joanna Dornfeld and Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, have traveled to Rochester for meetings. He was not able to participate in traditions like handing out candy to children on Halloween or pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey.
“Other than those restrictions, there really hasn’t been any functional difference in how I’ve operated from here vs. being at the residence,” Dayton said.
Dayton, 71, had two similar spinal surgeries earlier in his time in office. In 2017, he fainted during his State of the State speech, which he attributed to dehydration. The next day, he revealed he had prostate cancer and soon underwent surgery to remove his prostate.
If Dayton’s health were to render him unable to govern, Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach would step into the role. Dayton said his staff kept Fischbach apprised of his situation, but he has not asked her to take on any responsibilities. Fischbach, a Republican and former Senate president, automatically ascended to the lieutenant governor’s job in January after Dayton appointed then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate.
With a little more than a month and a half until he leaves office, Dayton’s priorities include a handful of judicial appointments and a Board of Pardons meeting, according to the governor’s office. Dayton said Tuesday he will meet with his commerce commissioner and others next week about the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. The Department of Commerce disagrees with the PUC’s ruling and could appeal the decision in court.
“We will consider all of the options that are available to us,” Dayton said.
During the hectic election season, news of Dayton’s extended hospital stay flew under the radar for several weeks. He was asked at the news conference whether he did enough to notify Minnesotans of his latest health developments.
“We haven’t been hiding the fact that I’ve been here and am still here,” he said, and added that reporters had not been asking. The administration made public that he was still at the hospital on Halloween and during the deer hunting opener, he said.
As Dayton winds down his tenure, Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Walz is preparing to take over. Dayton’s staff has been preparing for the change in leadership and started compiling information in June to pass on to the next governor’s staff.
“Governor Dayton, his cabinet members, and his staff are working tirelessly to ensure we have everything we need to hit the ground running in January. … Governor Dayton has been available by phone every time I’ve sought his counsel, and we plan to meet in person when he returns to St. Paul,” Walz said in a statement.
Walz has been meeting with all recent former governors and asking each of them the same few questions, according to his office. He wants to know about what they would do differently, their proudest moment and how they overcame their biggest challenge as governor.
Dayton said he hopes to meet with Walz next week.