What to expect in Dayton appointments: He wants ‘the best,’ with emphasis on youth, energy and ideas

Throughout his campaign, Mark Dayton vowed that if he won, he’d post a sign on the wall of the governor’s office that was there when Rudy Perpich was governor in the ’70s and ’80s.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Gov.-elect Mark Dayton

“None of us is as smart as all of us,” the sign read.

No doubt, he’ll do that.

Philosophically, Dayton even seems to believe the message of the sign.

“Mark Dayton, perhaps to a fault, seems to listen to everyone,” said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, who has applied to be the state’s next education commissioner. “I don’t know when he sleeps.”

Since Nov. 3, when it became pretty clear that he would be the next governor, Dayton constantly has been having lunches with former governors, former state budget directors, campaign allies and campaign foes. When he’s not been having lunches and meetings, he’s been inviting people — including the Emmers and the Pawlentys — to lunch.

His transition staff even put out a message to Minnesotans saying all ideas and applications would be taken seriously.

Serious — and real serious
Well, there’s serious — and there’s real serious.

The transition team has received hundreds of applications for the 23 commissionerships. There are countless other key administrative positions to be filled. Combined, those appointments will be key to how effective the Dayton administration will be.

Tina Smith, who last week was named Dayton’s chief of staff, has been a co-chair of the Dayton transition team. She insists that Dayton will not use the power of appointment to reward political cronies.

Tina Smith
Tina Smith

“Mark told us from the beginning, ‘Recruit the best we can find,’ ” Smith said in an interview.

She insisted that the transition team is taking all incoming applications seriously.

But, at the same time, the team is “reaching out” to people who have not applied. People such as former DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe are among those “going out and talking to people” about joining the administration.

So that would seem to mean that Dayton will listen to everyone but has a pretty good idea of whom he’ll listen to intently.

Between now and Jan. 3, there will be a flurry of announcements.

Given the $6 billion deficit Dayton inherits, the media attention will be heavily focused on Dayton’s appointment of a commissioner of management and budget. Certainly, that’s a huge job. But in a sense, it’s easy to fill. That post likely goes to a numbers pro.

The transition team has met with former holders of the office, including Pam Wheelock, who served under Jesse Ventura, and Peter Hutchinson, who served under Rudy Perpich, not apparently to ask them to apply, but to ask them about attributes needed for the job and also to talk about possible government reforms.

Vital as the budget job is, it’s the other appointments that will more clearly signal the directions that Dayton intends to head with his administration.

It’s unlikely that Dayton will accomplish much working with the gung-ho new Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But he can express his will through the various departments.

Start with the big picture.

Expect some unorthodox choices
Smith predicts that Dayton will make some choices that may seem unorthodox.

“Young people — he’s looking for ideas and energy and diversity,” she said.

All of those traits would be huge departures from the Pawlenty administration. Pawlenty seldom got out of his comfort zone, meaning he surrounded himself with white, Republican males.

Pawlenty’s one out-of-comfort-zone choice turned out to be a debacle. That was his strictly political decision to name his lieutenant governor, Carol Molnau, as commissioner of the Transportation Department. After the I-35W bridge collapse, Molnau was replaced by Tom Sorel, a pro who Dayton already has re-appointed.

The Pawlenty administration was almost devoid of people of color. That will change. The appointment of Josie Johnson, a longtime civil rights activist, to succeed Smith as co-chair of the transition team is going to be more than symbolic.

“She’s already been helping us identify leaders,” Smith said. “You have to be serious about that [diversity appointments].”

Where can Dayton make a difference via his appointments?

PCA appointment a tricky one
Think about the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as an example of the power — but delicacy — of a governor’s appointments.

Since Arne Carlson became governor in 1994, the mission of the agency has changed — from one that aggressively regulated industry to an agency that was ordered to see businesses as “clients.”

During his campaign, Dayton frequently ridiculed the agency, calling it the Minnesota Pollution Cooperation Agency.

But that doesn’t mean that Dayton now is free to plop some tree-hugging, metro-area environmentalist into the position. Yes, he wants to please environmentalists, but he’s said all along that the main goal of his administration is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Dayton is a man of tremendous loyalty. Nowhere will that loyalty show more than in his heartfelt appreciation for the support he’s always received from northern Minnesota, where there’s pressure to speed up the process of opening up mining operations.

Remember, too, that Dayton, during the campaign, agreed with both Emmer and Independene Party candidate Tom Horner that there were too many layers of “burdensome regulations” slowly down business growth in the state.

Somehow, then, the new MPCA boss will need to balance all of these interests.

Greiling points out that the education department is another area where there is some room to maneuver if the Republican Legislature at least keeps funding at “the status quo.”

Though Greiling has applied for the education commissioner position, the longtime state representative has told the transition team that it would be wise for Dayton to stay away from “political people.”

Greiling advice: ‘Follow Jesse’s path’
“I told them, ‘Do what Jesse did, not what Pawlenty did,” she said. “Jesse went with the best he could find. It’s amazing what the Pawlenty administration spent on giving jobs to losing legislative people. I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ ”

Nonetheless, Greiling said she applied because if Dayton is going to hire current and former legislators, she feels she has a deep understanding of education issues in the state. Besides, she said, the idea of being in the minority in the House isn’t appealing.

“There isn’t much productive to do when you’re in the minority in the Legislature,” she said.

The big change in education will be easy: the tone. From Day 1, Pawlenty bashed public education, which was not exactly the constructive way to build the reforms he said he wanted.

Perhaps the most likely person to move from the Legislature to the administration is Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. Huntley has become a national leader in issues surrounding health care reform and health care for the poor and would be a perfect fit as commissioner of Human Services. He and Dayton are in lockstep on moving Minnesota to a Medicaid expansion program that will cover all Minnesotans currently on General Assistance medical care, as well as 20,000 others.

Dayton will sign the documents needed for that move the moment he officially steps into the governor’s office.

Between now and then, there will be scores of interviews. (His transition team pares down the finalists for each commissioner position to a handful. A briefing document for Dayton is prepared on each finalist.)

Between interviews and announcements, there also will be a lot of lunches as Dayton goes about the business of listening to everybody.

Fortunately, for the sake of his health and waistline, he’s loyal to a daily workout on his elliptical walker.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by David Ziegler on 12/13/2010 - 12:13 pm.

    Doug, Doug, Doug.

    There is a Department of Health and a separate Department of Human Services. They have different missions too.

  2. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 12/13/2010 - 12:25 pm.

    Sounds like a Governor that is committed to doing his best by the State, not just his best for himself. Governor for all Minnesotans, not just rich men.

  3. Submitted by Don Effenberger on 12/13/2010 - 03:29 pm.

    Comment No. 1: We’ve fixed the mistake.

  4. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 12/14/2010 - 03:28 pm.

    Thus far we have not seen Dayton select any substantive, hardworking, or dedicated leaders for positions. Let’s hope Dayton gets beyond the political operatives he has appointed thus far.

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