Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday he would challenge a court ruling that postponed a union election among child-care providers, setting off another political skirmish with Republicans.

The governor's office issued a one-sentence statement announcing the decision, three days after a judge took the rare step of thwarting Dayton's executive order scheduling the voting by 4,300 child-care workers set for this week. The governor's office gave no explanation for the decision, but a memo from the state's solicitor general listed the move as one of three options available to Dayton.

Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman issued the temporary restraining order Monday. He said he was not convinced Dayton had needed to move so quickly. "I don't understand where there's a need for speed," the judge said.

The union voting was to have begun Wednesday. Lindman, who said the voting could wait until the Legislature began meeting Jan. 24, set a Jan. 17 hearing on an injunction to stop the election.

Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, a group whose mission calls for a restoration of traditional values in governmental policy, said Dayton's decision was "disheartening." The group had helped fund the legal case to stop the union election.

"It just kind of seems like the union said, 'This is what you're going to do', so he's just going to do it regardless of what's right," said McGrath, who, like some Republican legislators, said Dayton was rewarding the unions for assisting his election campaign last year.

But Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the unions pushing the election, applauded the governor and said there were strong legal grounds to challenge the judge's initial ruling. "We think it's a smart move," said Munt, who said the legal fight was an example of the anti-union stance by Republicans nationwide.

"The legislators who are spending so much time fighting the union are the people who have done things to hurt kids" through state budget cuts, she added.

Though Minnesota has an estimated 11,000 child-care providers, the election would have been confined to only the 4,300 who received a state subsidy within the past year. At Monday's hearing, lawyers said that most child-care providers worked out of their homes, providing care to as many as 14 children.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, reiterated Thursday the argument that Dayton had overstepped his legal authority and was trying to hold the elections in advance of the Legislature convening. Hann supported a Minnesota Senate legal brief in the case that had called Dayton's move "unprecedented and lawless."

Hann said he was surprised, in light of the judge's comments, that Dayton did not rescind the executive order after Monday's ruling.

"If I was the governor, I would say, all right, I guess maybe I need to think about doing this another way," Hann said.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673