Star Tribune Editorial
Gov.-elect Mark Dayton behaved at week's end like someone eager to make up for lost time. Five precious weeks of a new governor's usual post-election, pre-inauguration transition period were consumed by recount uncertainty. But when that cloud lifted with Republican Tom Emmer's concession Wednesday, DFLer Dayton got busy making smart moves.
His initial decisions do him credit. In his first major appointment, Dayton wisely announced that he would retain Tom Sorel as the head of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. He followed on Friday with a raft of governor's office appointments, headed by Tina Flint Smith, most recently chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, as chief of staff.
Two days of appointments don't add up to a governing pattern. But we like what we've seen so far. Dayton is tapping people with proven professional and managerial competence rather than long political résumés. Those ought to remain his top criteria for cabinet-level appointments.
The DFL governor-elect led with a move that recognizes and rewards good performance, and that ought to send a message of assurance to Republicans. Sorel, who is one of Pawlenty's strongest cabinet members, was already being courted by other states. He took charge of a dispirited, depleted MnDOT in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse and the state Senate's ouster of Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as commissioner in 2008, and restored the agency's reputation as a national leader.
In Smith, Dayton is getting a person of experience and stature who is widely credited for bringing focus to the Minneapolis mayor's office. In choosing Smith, Dayton is reaching into the camp of a DFL rival, underscoring his desire to unite his party. Smith has been serving as a senior adviser to Dayton since the latter days of the fall campaign.
It's notable that as Rybak's top aide, Smith helped the mayor strengthen ties to the business community. Minnesota would benefit if she could do as much for Dayton.
Though he springs from one of the state's most prominent business families, the new governor is regarded by business leaders with considerable skepticism. His proposal to impose higher taxes on the state's top earners is seen as anti-competitive. His early backing by the state's public employees' unions, and later by the teachers' union Education Minnesota, has business leaders believing Dayton is hostile to the cost-saving restructuring of government.
What those business leaders should know is that in recent weeks, Dayton has met with representatives of two highly regarded business consulting firms, Accenture and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and has asked Smith to head a task force on state agency reform.
Dayton is a former state agency head who knows firsthand about opportunities for government streamlining. He exhibits more personal interest in the topic than either of his two most recent predecessors displayed. Government reform ought to be a matter on which Dayton and the business community can cooperate, for the state's benefit.
Last week, Dayton also reiterated his campaign commitment to include a progressive tax increase in any budget-balancing plan that wins his signature. We hope that behind that public resolve lies private acknowledgement that he has limited capacity to pry an income tax increase out of a tax-averse Republican-controlled Legislature.
Dayton and Republican legislators understandably feel politically obliged to try to deliver on their campaign promises. But it ought to be apparent to every Minnesota voter that neither Dayton nor the Republicans are in a position to have their own way. We think voters would welcome an early recognition of that reality by their elected officials, and early moves toward compromise.