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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: All-women senior staff surrounds Dayton

ST. PAUL -- Mark Dayton already has departed from current Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's ways.

While Pawlenty's staff is male-dominated, the first key appointments in the Dayton administration are all women, mostly those who worked on his campaign or transition staffs.

Tina Flint Smith will be his chief of staff, the person who usually is the gatekeeper in the governor's office.

She was a senior Obama campaign advisor in 2008, and held high positions in Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's office; Walter Mondale's 2002 U.S. Senate campaign; and Ted Mondale's 1998 governor campaign.

Dayton's senior leadership team will be his campaign manager, Dana Anderson, along with Michelle Kelm-Helgen of outgoing Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller's office and Andrea Mokros, who has worked in communication and political consulting. Katharine Tinucci will be press secretary and Fatima Villasenor will be a senior aide.

GOP needs cash

The day after Democrat Mark Dayton was declared the new governor, the state Republican Party sent a money plea to supporters playing up its successes in the Legislature and in northeast Minnesota's congressional district.

"While it wasn't an easy choice to incur debt, it was absolutely necessary to win against a well funded liberal Democrat machine!" GOP Chairman Tony Sutton told supporters via e-mail. "We must pay down our debt or we risk not being able to defend our majorities in the next election. We must start now to ensure we have the resources and organization in place to defeat the liberal Democrats and their huge national money machine!"

Sutton said GOP lawmaker majorities in St. Paul and Washington are in a position to "make real change for the hardworking taxpayers of Minnesota by cutting taxes, reducing bloated government spending and getting nanny state government out of our lives." But, of course, he reminded Republican activists that there always is the next election that could change things unless they send money.

Businesses, unions fight

A dispute between the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the state's largest government union is a sign of things to come.

The chamber says that "Minnesota public employee compensation is largely out of sync with the private sector and threatens the sustainability of public services." The chamber released a report showing state and local governments last year spent $4 billion on services with "'weak or no' relationships to public sector outcomes."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 rebutted the chamber report, saying it attacked government employee compensation.

"Tax breaks for the rich are what's really threatening the sustainability of public services," Council 5 Director Eliot Seide said. "The chamber doesn't want to pay its fair share of taxes and that's why it's trying to blame the deficit on public employees. We're not the problem."

The exchange previews a dispute expected next year between incoming Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Recount wrap-up

The Minnesota governor race recount drew headlines for days, but once it ended the bigger story was what Gov.-elect Mark Dayton was saying.

So rewind a few days to the State Canvassing Board meeting.

The state board was expected to look at the statewide and state-funded recount of all 2.1 million ballots and decide, officially, the winner and his margin.

If that process had been followed, Democrat Dayton would have won by 9,080 votes. But since Republican Tom Emmer dropped out before the board could make that decision, the recount went for naught and Dayton officially won by the 8,770 votes by which he led going into the recount.

One final note: Dayton cannot get his election certificate until a week from when State Canvassing Board members signed it, allowing the trailing candidate to challenge the election in court. Emmer said he would not do that.

Emmer concession

Tom Emmer's governor race concession was strange in a few ways.

First, the self-professed hockey nut held it in near-zero weather in front of his house, in his snow-covered yard. With no winter coat, Emmer was surrounded by five of his seven children, wife and other family members. Later, winner Mark Dayton delivered his victory speech in cramped Capitol meeting room with little of the personality, or bitter cold, that Emmer's outdoor announcement showed.

Second, Emmer laughed often and actually stuck around longer than planned to chat with reporters, not always his favorite companions on the campaign trail. Emmer acted like he actually would miss them.

Third, running mate Annette Meeks was nowhere to be found. (Dayton's running mate, Yvonne Prettner Solon also was missing in action, taking a long-planned vacation.)

A sign on the Emmer front porch seemed appropriate for a family with seven kids after a campaign in which he often featured his family: "We may not have it all together but together we have it all."

Dayton and the dogs

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton says he will live in the official governor's residence with his 8-year-old German shepherds Dakota and Mesabi.

Govs. Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura split their time between their other homes and the residence (not officially called a "mansion") in an affluent part of St. Paul not far from the Capitol.

Dayton leaves no doubt that his dogs are important to him, and as he prepares to become governor he also is dealing with Dakota's cancer.

When Dayton and Pawlenty appeared together at a news conference, the current governor said he was thankful Dayton was not taking his dogs with him on a tour of the residence, saying his smaller dog would be threatened.

Dayton responded by saying that his two dogs would be better for the Pawlenty pooch than the boa constrictor his sons used to own.

The Daytons bought frozen rats to feed the snake, Dayton said while he was U.S. senator. At one point, he said, they tried using a microwave oven to thaw the rodents.

Dayton's advice: Don't do that because rats can explode in a microwave. 'Nuff said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.