As chief of staff, Tina Smith has been so integral to Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration that her title might have been deputy governor.
If Dayton and Smith prevail this fall in a bid for a second term, her new title will be lieutenant governor. The DFL governor announced Tuesday that Smith, 55, will be his running mate, succeeding Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon in that role.
When Prettner-Solon announced last month that she won’t seek a second term, she allowed that she had hoped to be more of an insider on Dayton’s team. In choosing Smith, Dayton appears to have taken that message to heart. Smith is the administration’s ultimate insider, the person who has tackled the most complicated and politically difficult issues that have come to the governor’s office in the past three years.
A former General Mills marketing professional and former chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, she worked with the business community, legislators and Minneapolis officials to craft a Vikings stadium plan that could clear political hurdles. A former Planned Parenthood executive, she was sufficiently savvy about health care to win Mayo Clinic trust in the bid for state help for the Destination Medical Center (DMC) project. The DMC Corp. governing board elected her its chair last fall. An MBA graduate of the Tuck School at Dartmouth College, Smith has pushed Dayton’s cabinet for more efficiency in state operations.
What Smith has not done — not since her high school student council days — is run for elective office. But she has coached numerous Democratic candidates in Minnesota and around the country. And she demonstrated at Tuesday’s announcement at state AFL-CIO headquarters that she knows how to deliver a campaign pitch and rev up a crowd (albeit a friendly one).
Though balanced by gender, as winning gubernatorial tickets have been since 1982, the Dayton-Smith team breaks with some political ticket traditions. It offers no geographic balance. Both Dayton and Smith spent their adult lives in Minneapolis.
Smith also lacks something governors and presidents usually seek in a running mate — a defined, loyal political base. Dayton’s 2010 choice of Prettner-Solon, a longtime elected official in Duluth, seemed to be an attempt to curry favor with DFL primary voters in northeastern Minnesota.
With no primary to fear this year, Dayton seems unconcerned about Smith’s lack of an electoral base. In choosing Smith, he seems to have his eye less on the 2014 election than on keeping a talented player on his team in a second term.
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