Transitions aren’t always warm affairs.
There always have been rumors, for example, that when Arne Carlson succeeded Rudy Perpich someone from Perpich’s staff had removed one of the legs on the governor’s desk chair. The new governor sat back. Boom. Down he went.
The Carlson-Jesse Ventura change also was low on warm embraces. Carlson seemed deeply offended that he could be replaced by a pro wrestler.
Ventura, on the other hand, was “gracious,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said today about the transition when he moved into the office eight years ago. Ventura even took Pawlenty for a high-speed ride in his new Porsche.
Pawlenty praises Ventura for his smooth transition
While they were zipping far ahead of the Highway Patrol, Pawlenty said Ventura told him, ‘Look, I know how tough this job is. … I’ll try to be respectful [and not second-guess].”
Pawlenty didn’t go so far as to say he wouldn’t be second-guessing Dayton, but he went on at considerable length about how much he appreciated the way Ventura “befriended me.”
The current governor doesn’t have a Porsche, but he treated Gov.-elect Mark Dayton with big smiles, handshakes and promises to help in any way he could as Dayton moves toward taking over the office on Jan. 3.
Pawlenty said he was especially grateful that Dayton did not bring his two German shepherds along for a tour of the mansion that Dayton received from him and his wife, Mary. The governor said that if Dayton had, his dogs might have snacked on the Pawlentys’ 9-pound Yorkie for lunch.
And Dayton showed his respect of Pawlenty in an even bigger way.
He announced that he was keeping Tom Sorel as commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation.
Dayton hadn’t planned on making any staff or commissioner announcements today but said the move to retain the well-respected Sorel had to be done quickly because he “had opportunities elsewhere.”
Retaining Sorel, who succeeded Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as the head of the massive department following the collapse of the I-35W bridge, was a sign, Dayton said, that he will try to surround himself with the best possible people, not political cronies.
“It’s a credit to him [Pawlenty] that he appointed him,” Dayton said. “He’s a consummate professional.”
Some Dayton appointments imminent
Dayton would not say if other commissioners were even seeking the opportunity to stay on in the new administration. Nor would he say if current legislators have applied for cabinet positions.
(At least one current legislator, Rep. Mindy Greiling, has applied to become commissioner of the Department of Education. Interestingly, though, Greiling told the Dayton transition team that she thought the new governor would be best served by following the Ventura model for appointing commissioners and other administration leaders. Because he had no real political party, Ventura, as an independent, concentrated on finding the best professionals possible. Pawlenty, she said, appointed far too many political people — former legislators and party activists — to key posts.)
When reporters kept pressing Dayton on who other appointments would be, Dayton turned biblical, more or less citing a verse about “revelations tomorrow.”
But it seems more and more likely that Tina Smith will become Dayton’s chief of staff. She rushed out of the Capitol room where Pawlenty and Dayton staged their symbolic joint news conference, doing her best to avoid reporters’ questions.
Most who have followed Dayton closely believe that his chief of staff will be crucially important to the success of a Dayton administration. Dayton is a hard — and often impatient — worker. He can burn up staff. His chief of staff likely will have to be a buffer between the governor and those who work for him, not to mention be able to act as a diplomat between Dayton and the new Republican majority.
Both the old governor and the new acknowledged they have philosophical differences. But, they each said that this wasn’t a day for either political rhetoric or debate.
What was the day about?
“The peaceful transition of democracy is a beautiful thing,” Pawlenty said. “We celebrate that grand tradition.”
Pawlenty and even Dayton were playful at times.
For instance, at one point, a reporter started a question saying, “Governor …”
“You talking to me?” responded Pawlenty as Dayton stepped back with a smile on his face.
As for that title, “Governor,” Dayton said he’d had lunch recently with former Gov. Al Quie.
“He told me that it would take about six months before somebody would call me ‘Governor’ and I wouldn’t look back over my shoulder,” Dayton said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.