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The first major shake-up of Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration came Tuesday, when Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon said she will leave the ticket at the end of this year.
Prettner Solon, of Duluth, who served in the Minnesota Senate before joining Dayton, had hinted widely in recent months that she was dissatisfied with her role in the administration and had never developed a real partnership with the governor.
In prepared remarks, Prettner Solon said that “It has been a great privilege, and my distinct honor, to serve the people of Minnesota.” Answering questions from reporters, she acknowledged that she and Dayton communicated largely through staff and memos, and that as she wrestled with her decision, Dayton never urged her to stay on.
Dayton was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, joining fellow governors for a meeting with President Obama, and did not attend the news conference. Stopped outside the White House, Dayton said that he had no immediate comment on Prettner Solon’s departure and would address the issue later.
In a statement released later Tuesday, he described Prettner Solon as “a courageous champion for the people of Minnesota” whose “tireless leadership on behalf of Minnesota’s senior citizens and people with disabilities has greatly improved many lives.”
The Dayton administration unveiled no timeline for replacing Prettner Solon, who will serve out the remainder of her term.
Prettner Solon’s departure gives Dayton the chance to select a new running mate, who could reshape the dynamic of the ticket and his leadership team.
Among the names that have surfaced are: Dayton’s chief of staff Tina Smith, 55, a trusted adviser with a proven ability to reach out to business; Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, 38, a former House majority leader from Chisholm who is leading the governor’s streamlining proposals in the upcoming legislative session; and state Sen. Katie Sieben, 36, DFL-Newport, who has 10 years of legislative experience in the House and Senate and who worked in Dayton’s U.S. Senate office.
All three either could not be reached or declined to comment for the story.
Prettner Solon was considered crucial to Dayton’s primary victory in a tight race that included House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who carried the party’s endorsement.
But as a sitting governor, Dayton no longer has to worry about fending off a primary challenger. He is arguably the best-known politician in the state and has been actively working on his re-election campaign.
This time, rather than selecting a candidate based on gender or geography, Dayton could select someone who shares his vision for governing and who could be a reliable partner.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Dayton will need someone who can be an active campaigner and who is knowledgeable on the issues. “I’d love to see a lieutenant governor who is more engaged,” Bakk said. “The right lieutenant governor could be a real asset to the ticket, but also the governing.”
House Speaker Paul Thissen said he expects Dayton to make his selection based on something beyond electoral strategy, feeling less pressure to appease rural areas or other regions of the state.
“This is not a selection, I would think, that would be who can win you votes in a particular area,” said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “It’s about talking to Minnesotans about the fact the state is heading in the right direction, and finding someone who feels very strongly about that.”
Many political operatives are mindful that Dayton has proved to be a savvy politician who is capable of surprises. They recall that his selection of Prettner Solon as an example — one that turned out to be stunningly successful.
“I imagine I will be surprised again,” Bakk said.
Dayton might have to first repair some wounds in Duluth, where many supporters thought Prettner Solon would play a more influential role in the administration.
“Duluthians are really proud of Yvonne and her service, and are disappointed in her limited role in the administration,” Duluth Mayor Don Ness said.
Duluth has long been a strong base of support for Dayton and other statewide DFLers.
“We had very high hopes the past four years,” Ness said. “The governor might be well served to take some time to reach out to Duluthians and reconnect after this latest development.”
For now, said Prettner Solon, 67, she plans to work hard the rest of the year and then return to Duluth, where she says she will continue her work on behalf of the elderly and disabled.
And after 25 years of public service, she said she is not ruling out a future run for office. Prettner Solon served on the Duluth City Council for more than 10 years before winning a state Senate seat, replacing her late husband, Sam Solon. Several Duluthians have said that Prettner Solon would be a formidable candidate for mayor if Ness decides against seeking a third term.
As she closed out what was likely to be her last major news conference, Prettner Solon spoke of the happiness she feels living on the shore of Lake Superior and how the rhythms and beauty of the area are a source of energy.
“Each morning, a new day casts its gaze across the waters and brings with it new choices and new possibilities,” Prettner Solon said. “I know the next chapter of my life will bring with it more opportunities to serve, more ways to give back, and more chances to make a difference in the lives of Minnesotans.”