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Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership and a former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, called Smith’s selection a positive step for the administration.
“She is smart, respected and most important — has the confidence and trust of the governor,” said Weaver, whose group helped coordinate a multimillion-dollar effort to try to defeat Dayton in the last election. “She would have the capacity to make the lieutenant governor’s office relevant.”
Republicans will have their own primary battle before figuring out who faces off against Dayton, but the field has already started zeroing in on the governor’s perceived vulnerabilities, like the fumbled rollout of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.
“Dayton’s policies, supported by Smith, have brought higher taxes, more wasteful government spending, and forced hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to scramble to keep their health insurance policies,” said former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
Opponents turned allies
Dayton and Smith have not always been on the same side.
In 2010, Smith led the gubernatorial campaign for Rybak, who was locked in a heated battle with Dayton and DFLers. An old hand at convention fights, Smith was among a cluster of campaign managers and party leaders who denied Dayton the pass that kept him off the DFL convention floor after he refused to abide by party endorsement.
Smith also is a longtime friend of Dayton’s former wife, Alida Messinger, a significant donor to Dayton’s first election effort and other prominent DFL causes.
When Dayton searched for someone to help his campaign after winning the DFL primary, Messinger recommended Smith for the job.
Since then, Dayton and Smith forged a strong relationship as they worked through some of the toughest issues of his term.
Several people close to the administration said more than any political calculation, Dayton wanted someone loyal and who he trusted. That put Smith at the top of the list.
Smith is one of the few people in the administration who jokes openly about her boss, a leader with a reputation for being demanding, impatient and critical.
“I have spent a lot of time talking to people over the last several years, talking to them about what the governor is all about,” she said. “I am exciting to spend more time doing that … It’s going to be fun.”
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044