After a bruising primary fight, roughly 30 grueling debates and 21 months of campaigning, Mark Dayton became the first Minnesota DFL governor elected in more than two decades.
Dayton accepted Republican Tom Emmer’s concession Wednesday afternoon. He pledged to focus on creating jobs and working with the GOP-controlled state Legislature.
"Now the real work begins," Dayton said.
Emmer conceded that morning in front of his Delano home, surrounded by tearful family members. The self-styled "common sense conservative" said he is proud to have brought a message of limited government and fiscal responsibility to Minnesotans.
He called Dayton at about 10:10 a.m. Wednesday with the news. The two former opponents used words like "gracious" and "gentleman" to describe the conversation.
Emmer trailed Dayton by nearly 9,000 votes after the election — less than the half-percent margin required to trigger an automatic recount — and ended his bid before the process officially ran its course.
Dayton said he will continue transitioning into the governor’s office, which he began concurrently with the recount.
Although Dayton’s transition team started fielding applicants for state commissioner positions, they waited for the recount’s end to start choosing finalists.
Dayton said to expect announcements in the coming days. He hopes to have most positions filled by his Jan. 3 inauguration. The Legislature convenes the next day.
"No excuses," Dayton said. "We’ll be ready."
Addressing the state’s $6.2-billion deficit will be a massive state government undertaking next biennium. Dayton said he expects the budgeting process to last the entire legislative session, but hopes to "start on time and end on time."
Last session, lawmakers extended their stay by a day. They emerged from a crazed overnight stint in the Capitol with a supplementary budget to address the state’s previous $3-billion shortfall.
With the roles reversed — a DFL governor and a Republican Legislature — little is likely to change.
Dayton pledged to work across the aisle despite cementing a commitment to pursue policies he campaigned on — raising taxes for Minnesota’s highest earners.
During his campaign, Dayton proposed to raise $1.9 billion through income tax hikes on individuals earning more than $130,000 yearly and couples earning more than $150,000 in the same period.
"I will continue to insist that those state and local tax dollars be collected more progressively, so that all Minnesotans pay their fair share," Dayton said in his speech.
That contradicts priorities Republican legislative leadership has outlined since the Nov. 2 election. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker-designate Kurt Zellers have vehemently opposed any new taxes while calling on state government to rein in spending and "live within its means."
It’s imperative that the next governor work with incoming lawmakers to face the steep slate of problems facing the state, Emmer said as he conceded.
Dayton contacted Koch and Zellers, but they haven’t established meetings yet, he said.
If a logjam at the Capitol halts progress solving the shortfall, lawmakers will be "judged properly in the next election," Dayton said.
Though recent budget forecasts showing a $600 million steeper deficit than previously expected could stand in his way, Dayton said he would do his "utmost" to uphold campaign promises to increase education funding.
He refused to answer if the soft language could mean he might not fulfill the promise.
In contrast, Dayton made it clear that he will sign the federal early Medicaid opt-in as quickly as possible, bringing roughly $1.4 billion in federal health care funding to the state. The previous Legislature set a Jan. 15 deadline to apply for the funds. Dayton hopes to sign the forms his first day in office, he said.
Dayton will attend fundraisers in New York and Washington, D.C., next week to pay off bills from the recount and meet the Minnesota Congressional Delegation, he said.
First Lady Mary Pawlenty invited Dayton to tour the overnor’s residence on Thursday.
Emmer’s future is less clear, or scheduled for that matter.
He was coy about plans for future office, deflecting questions in his usual joking manner.
Emmer, who raised serious doubts about this election, said he will work on reform. That includes support for voter photo identification.
Despite some indication the Minnesota Republican Party ran the recount show, Emmer said he made the decision to concede with family.
The State Canvassing Board certified the original election results Wednesday morning. Dayton won officially by 8,770 votes. He can’t receive his election certificate until Dec. 16.
Emmer raised questions about the state’s voting process during the recount, going as far as bringing a petition before the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ultimately denied his request.
The Court released an opinion Tuesday limiting Emmer’s options in filing a lawsuit to contest the election. They ultimately denied his request to ensure the number of voters matched the number of ballots cast. The former state representative said he was waiting on the opinion before making any future plans.
During the recount, Emmer stressed the importance of letting the process run its course, despite facing nearly insurmountable odds.
Now, he’s "satisfied" with the legal process that ultimately brought about his concession, Emmer said.
Dayton discovered Emmer had dropped out of the race while on a recount conference call in the car. The news changed the conversation’s tone.
"I was awake most of the night," Dayton said.
He currently has no plans for his inauguration.
"I feel humbled," Dayton said. "I feel mindful of the awesome responsibility the voters entrusted in me. I feel resolved."
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