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Mark Dayton becomes the first DFL governor in two decades, while Republicans take over the Legislature

Trading places

 Peter  Bartz-Gallagher)

Following his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton shook hands with Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea as Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and DFL elder statesman Walter Mondale look on. (Staff photo: Peter  Bartz-Gallagher)

Mark Dayton becomes the first DFL governor in two decades, while Republicans take over the Legislature

The easy lifting is over.

On Monday Mark Dayton was sworn in as Minnesota’s 40th governor, becoming the first Democrat in two decades to hold the state’s top elected office.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to rebuilding a successful state, one that again is the envy of the nation, a leader of the world,” Dayton said during a swearing-in ceremony at the Landmark Center in St. Paul attended by roughly 500 people. “Let it be written that we were Minnesotans who led the way to something better than before, who created something greater than ourselves, who achieved together what none of us could have accomplished on our own.”

The 63-year-old former U.S. senator was joined at the swearing-in ceremony by the state’s four other constitutional officers, all fellow DFLers: Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, Attorney General Lori Swanson, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Auditor Rebecca Otto. Other prominent politicos on hand: U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Tim Walz.

On Tuesday it was the GOP’s opportunity to celebrate historic change. The Republicans took over both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in the state’s modern era of partisan legislative contests.  Following an electoral landslide in November, they now hold a 72-62 seat majority in the House and a 37-30 seat advantage in the Senate.

Sen. Amy Koch, GOP-Buffalo, was sworn in as the state’s 10th Senate majority leader, becoming the first woman to hold the post. Sen. Michelle Fischbach, GOP-Paynesville, was elected the chamber’s first woman president. Outgoing Health and Human Services commissioner Cal Ludeman won election as secretary of the Senate, despite an outcry from Democrats that he would bring a strongly partisan tilt to the historically nonpartisan office.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, GOP-Maple Grove, was sworn in as the state’s 58th Speaker of the House. The oath was delivered by Hennepin County District Court Judge Ron Abrams, a former Republican House member. “Our job now is to govern,” said Zellers, upon taking the gavel. “Campaigns are over.”

Most notably, that means Dayton and the GOP-led Legislature will begin wrestling with the state’s historic $6.2 billion deficit. The governor is statutorily required to release a proposed budget by February 15. The two sides, however, have championed dramatically different approaches to how the books should be balanced.

Dayton supports closing roughly one-third of the budget hole ($1.9 billion) by raising income tax rates on the state’s wealthiest 10 percent of residents. “My proposed budget solution will be reasonable, balanced – and painful – because I see no easy alternative,” Dayton said at the inaugural ceremony.  “I will insist that any final solution make Minnesota’s overall tax burden more progressive, not more regressive.”

But Republicans have been adamant that the budget problem can be fixed without any additional revenue. Their mantra: The state needs to live within its means during tough economic times just like Minnesota’s families.

“We have a daunting task ahead of us,” said Zellers. “This is going to be a difficult, difficult economic recovery.”

The two parties might be able to find more unity on another top priority: growing jobs. Both Dayton and Republican leaders have suggested that cutting bureaucratic red tape and bolstering the state’s business climate will be high on the agenda during the legislative session.

But whether the two sides can find common ground on their competing budgetary approaches will ultimately determine the tenor of the legislative session. Dayton and the Republican-led Legislature have until May 23 to come up with a solution.

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