ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Democratic Minnesota Gov.-elect Mark Dayton started his official transition Thursday with a nod to outgoing GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, announcing plans to keep the incumbent’s transportation commissioner in place.
After five weeks of post-election limbo, Dayton’s first hiring announcement was a tenure extension for Department of Transportation chief Tom Sorel. During a news conference with Pawlenty, Dayton said he accelerated his decision because Sorel was considering other job offers.
“It was essential to make that decision quickly,” Dayton said, adding that Sorel is held in high regard nationally. He said the move would offer comfort to motorists that “especially in the winter time in Minnesota that the highways will be plowed and sanded and their lives will be protected.”
Sorel, a former federal official, is credited with repairing the agency’s image after a deadly interstate bridge collapse in 2007. He came aboard in 2008 when the Minnesota Senate fired then-commissioner Carol Molnau, who also was Pawlenty’s lieutenant governor.
Dayton has a little more than four weeks to build the first Democratic administration in two decades. The window was compressed because of a recount that ended with Republican Tom Emmer’s concession Wednesday. While Dayton had a team working on the transition, he couldn’t extend job offers until now.
Dayton said he has received applications for executive branch jobs from other people in the Pawlenty administration and from sitting Democratic legislators, none of whom were identified. He plans to announce his chief of staff Friday.
Pawlenty invited Dayton to a private Capitol meeting and later led him on a tour of the governor’s mansion. Appearing before reporters in between, Pawlenty described the day’s events as a “ceremonial passing of the baton.”
“There’s a lot for an incoming governor to absorb and do. Gov.-elect Dayton will be very busy in the days and weeks and months to come with a lot of challenges and responsibilities on his shoulders,” Pawlenty said.
Dayton had yet to visit his official transition space in a building adjacent to the Capitol. He will be able to access a $162,000 transition budget.
Dayton said he hasn’t given thought to what kind of inaugural celebration he’ll have. But efforts to pay for it are off the ground.
A “Dayton Inaugural Committee” is officially registered with the IRS. The committee was set up Wednesday night, mere hours after Emmer conceded.
The fundraising team includes advisers that have surrounded Dayton during his campaign and his transition. It will be chaired by Dana Anderson, Dayton’s campaign manager.
Dayton takes his oath Jan. 3. Past governors have scheduled events in the days leading up to and following their swearing-in. The practice has been to raise private donations to pay for the festivities.
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WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports