Tim Walz walked up the steps of the State Capitol for the first time as governor-elect on Thursday, a made-for-TV moment to kick off a transition process that will have him take over as Minnesota’s 41st governor in just under two months.
Among his first decisions: Walz named longtime aide Chris Schmitter, an attorney with the Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel, as his chief of staff. That’s typically the second-most powerful job in a governor’s administration, responsible for managing the state’s massive executive branch and controlling access to the governor. Walz also named Kristin Beckmann, former deputy mayor of St. Paul, to lead his transition effort. Thus began what will be a rigorous workload between now and Jan. 7, as the Democratic governor-elect works to fill key jobs, set a policy direction for the upcoming legislative session, and begin formulating a two-year budget for state government that will likely exceed $45 billion.
“We’re here to literally open the door and maybe broader than that, to thank the people of Minnesota for the incredible honor and privilege and responsibility to be the governor and the lieutenant governor of the state of Minnesota,” said Walz, flanked by Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan and his wife, Gwen Walz.
Flanagan will head up a One Minnesota Transition Advisory Board — the title comes from Walz’s campaign slogan — that will seek guidance from Minnesotans across the state on forming the new government.
Walz said its makeup would include diverse voices, from religious leaders to Fortune 500 CEOs to teachers.
“It’s an opportunity for people to see themselves reflected in our administration and know that they will have a seat at the table,” said Flanagan, who as a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the nation’s first American Indian woman elected to an executive office.
The transition website is mn.gov/tim-walz and the transition is accepting resumes. “If you want to make a difference in the future of this state, be part of this team, get in here and get involved,” Walz said.
Beckmann, who was deputy mayor to Chris Coleman, is currently chief operating officer for the nonprofit Center for Economic Inclusion.
Walz demurred when asked who he might appoint to lead state agencies, including whether he’d retain any holdovers from the current administration of Gov. Mark Dayton.
Walz said he spoke on Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, the Republican leader of the upper chamber.
At a news conference on Thursday, after he was re-elected to his leadership post, Gazelka said he offered to work together on areas of common interest with Walz, including a tax bill to make it simpler for Minnesotans to file their taxes.
Walz offered an olive branch to Minnesota Republicans.
“For those folks out there who didn’t cast votes for this administration, our job is to represent you to the best of our ability with the same vigor, the same passion, the same commitment as we do those who supported us,” Walz said. “That’s a critically important piece of this.”
Disagreements are inevitable, however.
Walz again mentioned two campaign proposals that Republicans have frequently criticized: a gas tax increase for roads, and a public buy-in option for MinnesotaCare, a state-funded health insurance program that’s currently reserved for the working poor.
Walz said he also spoke on Thursday to Dayton, who is recovering from back surgery. He praised Dayton’s fiscal stewardship of the state, and his administration’s work on early childhood education and water quality.
“We feel incredibly blessed to be following his administration,” Walz said.
The Walzes, who have a 17-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, said they are considering moving into the governor’s residence in St. Paul but are unsure of the timing. They currently live in Mankato.
Dayton, who is single with adult children, has lived with his dogs in the Summit Avenue residence for the past eight years. Gwen Walz said she got a phone call from Mary Pawlenty, the former first lady, who offered support and advice on logistical issues — like how to get their 12-year-old son to basketball practice, for instance.
The Walzes also revealed that Gus, their son, was promised a dog if his father won.