ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton reaches a milestone of sorts Tuesday. It’s his 100th day in office.
Sworn into office Jan. 3, the first Democratic governor elected in 25 years is facing some of the worst budget problems in decades.
But is he confident he’ll be able to solve them?
“I’m 64 years old. I know who I am,” said Dayton, a former United States Senator. “I’ve prepared all my life for this job.”
Dayton’s first official act as governor was memorable for its controversy. Health care protesters pushed their way into his office, upset about Executive Order No. 1, which allowed the state to seek federal funding for expanding Medicare programs.
Instead of ordering them out, the new governor invited them in. The protest, and Dayton’s response, set the tone for his first hundred days in office — a job he said is difficult and rewarding.
“I would give myself an ‘A,’” said Dayton. “And an A+ for effort.”
Since his swearing in Jan. 3, Dayton has been more visible than ever before. His biggest surprise? Everything about him is news, even his new puppy, Mingo.
“I got two puppies when I was in the Senate, and no one noticed,” he said. “So I got a puppy, and Mingo’s more popular than I am — which isnt saying much.”
For a politician of his experience and success, Dayton still appears awkward in public settings.
Heir to the Dayton’s Department Store fortune, Dayton told Edge View High School seniors in Woodbury how Robert Kennedy’s assasination changed his life, as the heir to a department store fortune.
“It really seared my conscience,” he said, “and lit a spark of politicial consciousness inside me so that I could never be comfortable being comfortable in my parent’s comfortable home again.”
Dayton’s political opponents used his awkwardness against him in the 2010 governor’s race — a campaign marked by snarkiness, and ending in a recount.
His former rival — Republican Tom Emmer — described Dayton’s policies in the Star Tribune on Tuesday as not only “misguided” and “flawed” but “repulsive” and “offensive.”
Not all Republicans feel that edgy.
“On a personal level, I think he’s great,” said Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers.
Zellers strongly disagrees with Dayton’s tax hike plan to balance the budget. Dayton has not wavered from a campaign promise to erase Minnesota’s $5 billion deficit by raising income taxes on the state’s highest income residents.
But Zellers said he’s surprised at how carefully the new governor is working with the new Republican Majority.
“We can actually point to stuff early on in the first hundred days that we actually accomplished,” he said. “That, because we did work together, are really good for the State of Minnesota.”
Dayton and Republicans have collaborated on two longtime controversial items: Alternative licensing for teachers and eliminating hundreds of business and envrionmental regulations.
Unconventional successes for a Democrat, and a politician who’s becoming an unconventional governor — even in his choice of office.
Unlike every previous Minnesota governor, Dayton gave up his prestigous corner office in the capitol to accomodate three staffers.
The state’s chief executive uses a nearby closet-sized cubby hole with a small desk.
“I prefer simplicity,” he said.
Dayton says he and the Republican legislature will be judged on how they erase the state’s $5 billion projected deficit. And he says he’s confident they’ll reach agreement.