To the hundreds who filled the House chamber for Thursday's State of the State address, Gov. Mark Dayton is, whether adversary or ally, a man of immense political power.
But to one Spring Lake Park teenager who watched from the gallery, he's a fishing buddy and homework helper, impressing her more with knowledge of Beyoncé and Justin Bieber than lofty initiatives for transportation and education.
"He's kind of like the grandpa I never had," said Aamira Redd, 17, a junior basketball standout at Spring Lake Park High School. "I can talk to him about anything, about school and all the crazy things that happened in my life, and I know he'll give a very funny comeback. It's amazing having him in my life."
Redd said her friendship with Dayton blossomed when the governor visited her school three years ago and confided to the students that talking with them made him nervous, for fear that he'd come off as boring. Redd, then an outgoing eighth-grader who was interested in politics, approached him afterward.
"I don't think you're boring at all," she recalls telling him.
"That's really cool," Redd said the governor replied. The two exchanged e-mail addresses and hit it off. She eventually asked him to become her mentor. Dayton, flattered, told her no one had asked him that before. Since then, he has attended her uncle's wedding and given her advice on college, and the two have specifically bonded over their love for the Minnesota Lynx. He's more than a mentor, he's a friend, she said — but she still calls him "governor."
Moments before she was to attend her second State of the State address, Redd reflected on the friendship as a once-in-a-lifetime bond. But she admitted she's no longer as interested in pursuing a career in politics.
"I realized it's a little too cutthroat for me," she said. "I actually haven't told him that yet. I hope he's not too upset."