Dayton Now Prepares To Govern Amid A Bevy Of Challenges

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 at 9:00 am

On the day Minnesota’s overtime race for governor ended, the losing candidate, Republican Tom Emmer, came off as relaxed, playfully ribbing reporters and daring them to try out his backyard hockey rink. The winner, Democrat Mark Dayton, struck an almost somber tone, cracking just a few smiles as he talked in stark terms.

Maybe it has to do with the difficult task ahead for Minnesota’s governor-elect: wiping out a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit with his main proposal already declared dead on arrival from new Republican majorities in the Legislature.

“I feel mindful of the awesome responsibility that has been entrusted to me by the voters of Minnesota,” Dayton said. “It’s a momentous day for me, and it’s also the first day of now this undertaking that will be even more challenging than the last two years of the campaign.”

Republican Tom Emmer’s concession Wednesday officially makes the deficit Dayton’s to handle. Emmer abruptly halted a recount process nearing conclusion and ruled out suing over the election that left Dayton with an 8,770-vote win out of 2.1 million ballots.

Behind the serious veneer, Dayton and Democrats were celebrating the return to an office that has eluded them for 20 years.

“His victory is all the more impressive when you consider that he won in a tough climate,” said Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley of Maryland. The DGA spent $1.5 million on the race, steered through independent groups.

It all becomes more real for Dayton on Thursday, when departing Gov. Tim Pawlenty meets with him about the upcoming transition. A private tour of the governor’s mansion is also in the works.

As governor-elect, Dayton will have access to a state office and a $162,000 transition budget.

Dayton lost a month for making key hires and orienting himself to an executive branch that he may try to reshape. While his transition team has been vetting possible commissioners, none has been formally selected and probably won’t be for days. He said he aims to name a chief of staff by week’s end.

“No excuses,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”

The budget work will consume his first year, starting when the Legislature convenes in January.

Republicans hold the House and Senate for the first time in modern history. They have made clear they oppose the new governor’s campaign pledge to tax the wealthy to solve the deficit.

Incoming House Majority Leader Matt Dean previewed the battle ahead, saying the upcoming legislative session is likely to be as challenging as the election.

“With fewer Democrats in both bodies, it’s clear there is a firm bipartisan majority in the Legislature that will again reject job-killing tax increases,” Dean said.

Dayton appealed for his new co-workers to commit themselves to finding common ground despite their political differences.

“You were elected on your platforms and principles; I was elected on mine,” Dayton said of Republicans at his first news conference his victory. “I believe the collective wisdom of the electorate is that they want part of what each of us offers.”

As Emmer stepped aside, he was giving up a fight that threatened to keep Pawlenty in office beyond the planned Jan. 3 inaugural. Emmer said he had no interest in dragging out a race he couldn’t win.

“It’s time to stand up and say we need to move on,” Emmer said outside his house in Delano, adding. “I don’t take it personal. For me, it’s business.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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