Wearing contrasting ties, Pawlenty and Dayton traded jokes and spoke of a smooth transfer of power.
Incoming Gov. Mark Dayton and outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty stood together before the cameras at the State Capitol Thursday and tried for once to keep their differences down to the color of their ties: DFLer Dayton wore blue, Republican Pawlenty wore red.
The two sought to reassure Minnesotans, sometimes awkwardly, that the transition would be smooth.
"I've enjoyed his company" over the years, Pawlenty said of Dayton, a former U.S. senator. "While he and I may not agree on every policy issue, we do agree on the need to serve Minnesota."
In his first full day as governor-elect, Dayton joked with Pawlenty, rode with him to tour the governor's mansion and said he had no idea what the theme of his inaugural party would be.
But barely 24 hours after being declared the winner of a bruising race for governor, Dayton began pulling together his administration, announcing that Tom Sorel, Pawlenty's state transportation commissioner, would continue in the job.
'The peaceful transition of democracy is a beautiful thing," a smiling Pawlenty said, as Dayton stood alongside.
Pawlenty, an outspoken conservative who may run for president, deflected a question of whether he would criticize his liberal successor once he left office. When Pawlenty instead praised how former Gov. Jesse Ventura had withheld criticizing Pawlenty, Dayton smiled at Pawlenty and quipped: "I'll make it more difficult for him."
Replied Pawlenty: "Each governor does it differently."
Pawlenty and Dayton said their short meeting in the governor's office, coming before a 30-minute news conference, largely stayed away from weighty issues. Dayton said Pawlenty offered to drive him to the governor's residence in St. Paul for a tour "so I could get past security."
Dayton also said he'd "been rehearsing all morning how to be funnier without a grimacing smile." Though Pawlenty promised to help with the transition, the two men said they were not scheduled to have another face-to-face meeting.
After being a Republican governor pitted against a DFL-controlled Legislature, Pawlenty had some advice for Dayton, who will be a DFL governor staring down a Republican-controlled Legislature. "There are some inherent powers a governor has," said Pawlenty, who often was able to politically hold his own against DFL legislators. The job, Pawlenty said to Dayton, will give him a "pretty powerful platform."
Dayton said that he was only now beginning to realize he would be Minnesota's next governor. Republican Tom Emmer on Wednesday abruptly ended a statewide recount and conceded the race, giving a narrow, 8,770-vote victory to Dayton.
"It does take awhile to absorb all this," said Dayton, who added that he was still sifting through candidates to head the state's many departments and agencies.
Dayton spent Thursday evening mingling with participants at a fundraiser in St. Paul for a soldier support group, and then gave a speech at a conference on poverty at the University of Minnesota.
"I wish [Dayton] all the luck in the world," said Valerie Mahowald of Maplewood, who attended the St. Paul fundraiser and admitted that she voted for Emmer. Her husband, Louis, sat on a nearby chair and was less charitable. "If he didn't have that money behind him, he wouldn't be where he is today," he said, referring to Dayton's personal wealth.
'Mark - Call me Mark'
Valerie Mahowald, however, liked what she saw after introducing herself to the governor-elect. "I said, 'Hello, [Mr.] Governor,'" she reported. "He said, 'Mark -- call me Mark.' That was nice."
Chris McDonald of Mankato, whose husband is returning from serving in Iraq, said she was glad the recount had ended. "I think it cost a lot of money," she said. "I know it's state law [to have a recount in a close election]. I just think it's ridiculous."
Dayton told the university crowd that accomplishing his goals to alleviate poverty would be "very difficult," given the dire state of Minnesota's budget. Among those goals, Dayton said, was providing fully funded early childhood education, optional all-day kindergarten and wage subsidies.
He said he lacks the advantages that Gov. Rudy Perpich, one of his mentors, had when he stepped into office. Gov. Al Quie had held several special sessions to balance the budget, allowing Perpich to enact an anti-poverty agenda, Dayton said.
"Those resources were available because his predecessor had taken the responsibility, the Legislature had taken the responsibility, to balance the budget and allow them to move ahead," Dayton said. "So different, so totally different from the crisis that we face today."
Dayton pointed several times to recommendations in a legislative report to end poverty by 2020. He said the poverty problem is only worsening in Minnesota, however.
"We know what the ingredients are, so why is it that we as a society fail to put them together?"
Acknowledging that his eight years as governor were now down to three weeks, Pawlenty reflected.
He spoke of entering office in 2003 facing, like Dayton, a large state budget deficit, and he recalled his multiple trips to visit American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'll remember that for the rest of my life," said Pawlenty.
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