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Dayton accepts victory

Progressive tax policy will remain a priority, Mark Dayton said Wednesday after winning the Minnesota governor race. He wants to raise taxes on the rich. Pioneer Photo/ Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer ended their quest for the Minnesota governor's office as differently as they were on the campaign trail.

Dayton, the liberal winner, was somber. Emmer, the conservative loser, was loser light hearted. The contrast was much like their campaigns, which presented voters the starkest liberal-conservative gap in memory.

Democrat Dayton accepted victory Wednesday after Republican Emmer conceded and the state's top election board certified Dayton the winner by 8,770 votes.

It is understandable why Dayton did not laugh and joke much: He faces a $6.2 billion state budget deficit and a deep division with the Republican legislative majority about how to handle it.

Instead of saying he was excited and thrilled, Dayton took a more serious approach to winning.

"I feel humbled," Dayton said. "I feel mindful of the awesome responsibility that has been entrusted to me by the voters of Minnesota. I feel resolved to do my very, very best. It has been a momentous day for me and it also is the first day of, now, this undertaking that will be even more challenging than the last two years of the campaign."

Less than four hours earlier, Emmer told reporters that he concedes he lost the election and will not challenge it in court. He was upbeat and frequently laughed as he read a statement and answered reporters' questions.

"There is no crying in politics," Emmer said.

Wednesday's events ended a post-election contest that did not help Emmer. A recount ended late last week with Emmer as far behind as on election night and this week Emmer's legal team dropped most of its ballot challenges.

All 2.1 million ballots were recounted by hand and at state expense.

The Nov. 2 election that produced a Dayton governorship also generated a Republican legislative majority. The odd-couple marriage must deal with the most serious budget problem ever faced by Minnesota policy makers, the $6.2 billion state budget deficit.

"You were elected on your platforms and principles, I was elected on mine," Dayton said to Republicans. "I believe the collective wisdom of the electorate is that they want part of what each of us offers, and they want us to work together to solve the state's budget crisis."

While Dayton sounded conciliatory, he also indicated he will stick by his campaign pledge to raise taxes on the rich.

"I will continue to insist that state and local tax dollars be collected more progressively, so that all Minnesotans pay their fair share for the essential services all Minnesotans need," he said.

Incoming House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, congratulated Dayton, but warned that the new governor must work with Republicans.

"With fewer Democrats in both (legislative) bodies, it's clear there is a firm bipartisan majority in the Legislature that will again reject job-killing tax increases," Dean said. "I urge Gov.-elect Dayton to re-examine his priorities and begin with a responsible budget that lives within government's means."

Dayton, 63, said that his official win opens him to more aggressively preparing to become governor on Jan. 3. He said he hopes to have his Cabinet in place by then, but made no promises. "That is an enormous task."

Dayton quietly has worked on building an administration since just after the Nov. 2 election. His transition team, with a hand-lettered sign on the door to its East St. Paul office, has been funded privately. Now, state funds and office space will be available immediately.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Dayton meet today, and Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, give Dayton a tour of the official governor's residence.

Dayton, a department store heir who has made public service his calling, has served in several state and federal positions for the past 30 years.

Before Dayton and his two sons were in a Capitol meeting room packed with reporters, photographers and supporters, Emmer left the Minnesota governor's race at home, surrounded by his wife, five of his seven children, parents and other family members. He left open the option of running for office again.

He stood outside his Delano home in a sport coat, without gloves, in near-zero weather.

As his wife, Jacquie, and daughter, Katie, stood by his side -- and shed occasional tears -- Emmer, 49, said he and Dayton plan to go out for lunch next week and he urged Minnesotans to get behind Dayton, even if they do not always agree on policies.

"It is our job to make sure he can be the best possible governor he can be," Emmer said.

Even though Republicans took control of the Minnesota House and Senate, putting a liberal in the governor's office for the first time in 20 years thrills Democratic-Farmer-Laborites.

"I look forward to the Dayton administration, where Minnesota will finally have a governor who will stand up for everyday Minnesotans, who cares about our shared values of accountability, equality, opportunity, prosperity and fair play, and who will do the work to truly build a better Minnesota," DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said.

Lt. Gov.-elect Yvonne Prettner Solon was not with Dayton Wednesday. He said she was a pre-planned vacation.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.