More than a month after Election Day, on the heels of a fractious recount struggle, Mark Dayton finally became Minnesota's next governor on Wednesday, the first DFLer to claim the office in 20 years.
Dayton immediately signaled that he intends to seek common ground with a Legislature that will be ruled by Republicans when he takes office on Jan. 3. "If we simply disregard and defeat each other's proposals ... we will only cause unwanted gridlock and deadlock," Dayton said.
In a nod to the difficult times ahead, Dayton said that he knew the decisions he must soon make "will not all be popular with all of you."
Dayton's victory speech came within hours of a graceful concession by GOP candidate Tom Emmer, who stood with his family in freezing temperatures outside his Delano home as he officially bowed out.
The three-term state representative pulled the plug Wednesday on a recount in which the numbers had stubbornly remained in Dayton's favor and relinquished any claim to a legal contest. The state Canvassing Board certified an 8,770-vote margin for Dayton on Wednesday.
"Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice," Emmer said. "Now is the time for all of us to come together and do what is best for Minnesota. ... And it is our job to make sure he can be the best governor he can possibly be. ... We congratulate him and we offered to help him in any way we can."
Dayton's win continues a political career that started in the 1970s as an aide to then-Vice President Walter Mondale and spanned a stint as state economic development commissioner, state auditor and six years as a U.S. senator. He sought the governorship unsuccessfully in 1998.
Dayton plans to move swiftly on his transition to the State Capitol. He said he will appoint a chief of staff within 48 hours and will announce other hires in the coming days.
"I feel humbled. I feel mindful of the awesome responsibility that has been entrusted to me by the voters of Minnesota," Dayton said. "I feel resolved to do my very, very best. It's a momentous day for me."
A twice-divorced bachelor, Dayton said he plans to move into the Summit Avenue governor's residence with his two German shepherds, Dakota and Mesabi.
First Lady Mary Pawlenty will give Dayton and his two grown sons a tour of the private parts of the residence on Thursday. Dayton said he has not been in the Summit Avenue home in 20 years, since he served in the administration of the last DFL governor, Rudy Perpich.
Dayton and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty plan to meet the same day to discuss the changeover and have scheduled a news conference afterward.
Pawlenty, after two terms in office, is strongly considering a run for president.
State Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, a clinical psychologist in Duluth with strong union ties, will become lieutenant governor, replacing Carol Molnau.
Budget due soon
The candidate who wooed supporters with a tax-the-rich campaign theme now has less than a month to assemble an administration and begin hammering out a budget proposal to solve the state's projected $6.2 billion deficit.
Dayton will have to thread his tax plan through a constrictive political landscape in which a GOP-controlled Legislature is in no mood to impose tax increases on recession-battered residents.
Dayton said that while he will extend a hand to Republicans, he would not relent on his insistence that higher-wage earners "pay their fair share."
For the past five weeks, Dayton had to balance the rigors of planning to lead the state while at the same time overseeing a recount effort that threatened to stretch on for months.
Now, Dayton can launch headlong into assembling a roster of roughly two dozen commissioners who will make up the backbone of his administration.
Before Emmer conceded, an upbeat Dayton walked into his St. Paul transition office on Wednesday morning and said that his team was at the "very beginning stage of some of the interviews with leading candidates for commissioners."
Dayton is entitled to up to $162,000 for his transition team, according to Joe Ludwigson, a spokesman for Minnesota Management and Budget, which administers the transition. Dayton's team will also be given office space in the Capitol or the nearby Centennial Building.
Charlie Weaver, Pawlenty's former chief of staff who managed the transition eight years ago, urged Dayton to select cool-headed professionals.
"Hire adults, people who are mature, who you trust, who aren't going to the bar every day after work to brag about the governor did this or that," he said. "You cannot afford drama or divas in the governor's office. And you want people who can work both sides of the aisle."
Looming budget battle
Dayton said he will immediately begin tackling the state's multibillion-dollar deficit, which became a perennial problem for Pawlenty.
Republicans offered their congratulations on Wednesday, but they signaled what could be the beginning of a rancorous relationship with the new governor.
"With fewer Democrats in both bodies, it's clear there is a firm bipartisan majority in the Legislature that will again reject job-killing tax increases," incoming House Majority Leader Matt Dean said in a statement. "I urge Governor-elect Dayton to reexamine his priorities and begin with a responsible budget that lives within government's means."
Dayton, who as a candidate pledged to increase education funding ever year -- "no excuses, no exceptions" -- said on Wednesday only that "I will do my utmost" but that he would have to consider the weight of enormous budget challenges.
Mike Kaszuba, Eric Roper and Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report. Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288