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Dayton prepares for governor's job

Mark Dayton says that becoming governor, as he will Monday, is a much bigger task than when he became a U.S. senator. Not only will he have more responsibility, but he will have many more working for him. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Mark Dayton's 30 years of political experience and a lifetime of public service will be put to the test beginning at noon Monday, when he becomes Minnesota's 40th governor.

"It's an awesome responsibility," he said in a Forum Communications Co. interview, "especially given the financial mess I am inheriting."

Dayton has had little time to think about such things as he heads into the new job. The interview was held three weeks to the moment when Republican Tom Emmer conceded the governor's race to Dayton.

That late concession, thanks to a thin Dayton vote margin that led to a recount, forced the Democrat to prepare for office in less than half the time most governors enjoy.

"We have been in hyperdrive," he said.

Even at normal speed, getting ready to be governor is a bigger task than he faced preparing to become a U.S. senator, the 63-year-old DFLer said. Not only will he oversee a much larger organization as governor, he will have sole responsibility for many decisions, compared to being last in seniority on a 100-senator roster.

The rush will force Dayton to take the oath of office Monday without a full Cabinet, and require those commissioners he has named to get up to speed quickly as lawmakers begin their 2011 session the next day, expecting Dayton administration commissioners to soon brief them on agency operations.

Before much of the real governing starts, the inaugural is planned for Monday at St. Paul's Landmark Center. While open to the public, space is expected to be at a premium so he and Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon will be in the governor's reception room in the State Capitol most of the afternoon to greet Minnesotans who want to congratulate the two.

Monday is a pinnacle of sorts for Dayton, who has dedicated his life to public service.

Dayton, who failed in an earlier attempt to be governor, served Gov. Rudy Perpich twice as a commissioner and was elected state auditor.

The Dayton department store heir upset incumbent U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, a Republican, in 2000. He opted to serve just one term in Washington, drawing criticism from Republicans for leaving a job undone and even giving himself and fellow senators an "F" for their accomplishments.

He began running for governor nearly two years ago, and emphasized his "tax the rich" philosophy for increasing state revenue.

Dayton brings to office fewer political obligations than most other governors, having accepted relatively little financial aid from special interest groups that typically fund major campaigns. He self-funded much of his campaign, especially the early part.

"Mark Dayton kind of got where he is on his own," incoming Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. "I don't believe he owes any kind of political favors to any interest groups. ... He has the luxury of being pretty independent. I think that kind of independence will allow him to do things that neither political party will be happy with."

Bakk said Dayton's lack of political obligations could make the 2011 legislative session less partisan. "He has a wonderful opportunity to be able to do things."

But Dayton could have little support from legislative leadership, many of whom come from political cloth similar to the ultra-conservative Emmer.

In many ways, issues have taken a back seat as Dayton prepares to take the state's reins.

Dayton and his transition staff work in conditions far from what the governor's staff enjoys.

The transition office is housed in a nondescript east St. Paul office building (the entrance is in the rear) with mismatched desks and tables serving as work stations for those setting up interviews for potential Dayton aides and others preparing for Monday's inaugural. A hand-lettered sign is taped to the front door. There is nothing fancy inside. For the interview, he borrowed a small office from two aides, a far cry from the historic and ornate office he will occupy beginning Monday.

Sitting on the side of a large room with other transition workers, Tina Smith looked ahead a few days: "At least I will have an office." She will be Dayton's chief of staff.

The weekend after becoming governor, Dayton plans to move from his Minneapolis apartment to the official governor's home in St. Paul.

Dayton will be the oldest Minnesotan to enter the governor's office and immediately will face one of the state's oldest problems: how to balance the budget. He faces a $6.2 billion deficit that could grow bigger before the next budget cycle begins on July 1.

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