Mark Dayton at Capitol Wednesday
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Gov.-elect Mark Dayton reached out to Republicans who will lead the Legislature within hours Wednesday of his opponent conceding the close governor's race, saying they must join together to tame a massive budget deficit.
Dayton will become the first Democrat to serve as the state's governor in 20 years, but will have to work with GOP legislative majorities who oppose his campaign pledge to tax the wealthy in order to fill an expected $6.2 billion shortfall.
"If we simply disregard and defeat each other's proposals and try to make each other look bad in the process, we will only cause unwanted gridlock and deadlock," the former U.S. senator said at a Capitol news conference.
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Republican Tom Emmer had ended the drawn-out race earlier in the day, pulling the plug on a statewide recount nearing completion and ruling out a lawsuit. Emmer called Dayton to offer his congratulations just before appearing outside his home to concede, five weeks after the election.
Dayton's winning margin is officially 8,770 votes -- the lead he had entering the recount. Because Emmer conceded and waived the rest of the recount, none of those results will make it into the official record. The secretary of state's office said Dayton would have won by 9,080 had the State Canvassing Board certified a tally based on recount results.
But with the election now officially behind him, political analysts say the real battles await Dayton, particularly with regard to his pledge to increase taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans.
"That would have been easier to sell with a DFL majority in the house and the senate. But Republicans are committed to no tax increases, and in many ways want to continue with the Pawlenty message about not increasing the taxes," said David Schultz, a Hamline Law Professor.
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 will take over from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Jan. 3. The two plan to meet face-to-face on Thursday and hold a news conference about the transition.
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 within two days.
"No excuses," he said. "We'll be ready."
Dayton's victory revitalizes a political career many thought over after his Senate term, when Republicans ridiculed him for temporarily closing his Washington office in response to information about a possible terrorist threat.
When he decided not to run for Senate again, Dayton said he was clearing the way for a Democrat who would have a better shot at winning. But he immediately set his sights on a second bid for governor, after having made an unsuccessful run in 1998.
Dayton plowed through a crowded Democratic field and won the nomination in a close primary that personally cost him millions. The department store heir didn't ante up as much for the general election, but never trailed in the polls.
Emmer conceded on a frigid morning outside his home on a cul-de-sac in the city of Delano, with his wife and children by his side. He said he had spoken with Dayton beforehand in a cordial phone call and offered to do what he could to support the governor-elect.
"Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice," Emmer said.
As a new governor, Dayton will have until mid-February to present a budget to the Legislature. He said he has no plans to abandon his campaign proposal for the new tax bracket on the top sliver of incomes. Republicans, who will control both chambers of the Legislature, have vowed to fight him on the tax front.
The governor-elect struck a cooperative tone in his opening news conference.
"We were all elected by the people of Minnesota to serve all the people of Minnesota," Dayton said.
In a divided government, Dayton will be forced to cut deals with Republicans that could irritate his own party base.
Dayton is fond of quoting a sign his former boss, Rudy Perpich, the last Democratic governor, hung on his wall: "None of us is as smart as all of us."
Former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a Democrat who lost to Pawlenty in the 2002 governor's race, said Dayton is collaborative by nature. Moe said that should head off the type of clashes that erupted frequently between the Legislature and Pawlenty, who piled up vetoes during his eight years.
"He's not the kind of person who wants the credit," Moe said of Dayton. "He's willing to share the credit and let everyone walk away from the table with the sense they were players, and that they achieved some degree of success in the legislative process."
The election recount was Minnesota's second big recount in just two years. The state's 2008 Senate standoff between then-Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken took more than six months to resolve, mainly because of a lawsuit.
Recount survivors Dayton and Franken would be on the same ballot if both decide to run again in 2014.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)