The turkey that came to the Capitol for a ceremonial pardon Tuesday walked away with something closer to a temporary stay of execution.
Gov. Mark Dayton commemorated the annual "Turkey Day" at the Capitol with a mild-mannered, 20-pound gobbler he named "Bipartisan."
Dayton noted that he lacks the legal authority to pardon a bird, and certainly lacks the ability to pardon a turkey that has not been convicted of a crime.
"Every time I exceed my executive authority," Dayton joked, "somebody files a lawsuit."
Last year, the event marked a send-off of two Minnesota turkeys, Liberty and Peace, to Washington to be pardoned by President Obama. Those turkeys then were whisked off to live out their days at the classy Mount Vernon Estate.
This time, Bipartisan will return to his Melrose- area farm and likely will be "processed" within a few days.
Given that an estimated 67 million turkeys are consumed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, odds are good that Bipartisan soon will find himself flanked by stuffing and mashed potatoes. In a preview of things to come, Bipartisan was seated at a table that also featured two frozen, bagged turkeys and a basket of turkey parts.
"He'll certainly live past tomorrow," said Minnesota Turkey Growers Association executive director Steve Olson. "Beyond that? I am not so sure."
Historically, past turkeys that made it to the Minnesota Capitol Thanksgiving ceremony found themselves facing a similar fate.
Last year, the prize turkey, Ted, was part of a presidential flock destined for Washington until his destiny was clipped short by an unforeseen event. Tapped to participate in the governor's ritual ceremony, Ted caused a stir when he bolted from Dayton's reception room, causing a momentary tizzy as people tried to corral the unruly flapper and not spoil the event.
But the moment Ted came in contact with the public, his fate was sealed. He could not be introduced to the presidential flock because of the diseases humans can transmit. Soon, Ted was history and two other birds made the trip to Washington instead.
When journalists pressed Dayton about the fate of this year's "pardoned" bird, Dayton was serene: "I guess we are going to have to face facts that this turkey is not going to have eternal life anywhere."
Dayton joked that he had considered giving the turkey to the Capitol press corps, but said he worried journalists would think of him every time they saw the hapless bird.
Since jumping into the turkey business in the 1930s, Minnesota has blossomed into the largest turkey producer in the nation. The state raises 46 million birds annually, far ahead of North Carolina, the second-largest turkey producer.
At Tuesday's event, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association announced it would donate more than 11,000 pounds of turkey meat to Minnesota food shelves. Over the years, the group has donated roughly 190,000 pounds of turkey meat, serving more than 230,000 needy Minnesotans.
For his part, Dayton said he plans to celebrate the holiday Wednesday with his grown sons at their downtown Minneapolis restaurant, the Bachelor Farmer.
On Thanksgiving, the governor plans to engage in one of his personal traditions -- serving food to people in need at a Minneapolis church.
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044