Teary-eyed and reflective, Democratic Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon said Tuesday she would not seek a second term alongside Gov. Mark Dayton next fall, ending — for now — a 25-year career in politics.
The former Duluth City Council member and state senator cited weariness after years of travel from northern Minnesota to St. Paul and a desire to spend more time with her family as reasons for not running again. She will serve out the remainder of her term, which ends next January.
“I’ve been traveling Highway 35 for almost 15 years now. I’ve been in public service for 25 years,” she told reporters gathered at the Capitol. “I’d like to spend more time with the people I love.”
Prettner Solon highlighted her work — much of her own choosing — on initiatives for senior citizens and people with disabilities during her time as lieutenant governor.
She added, however, that she thought the office would be more hands-on when she left the state Senate and agreed to join Dayton on the ballot in 2010.
The two have had disagreements about policy initiatives during his first term, including recent talks of increasing security at the Capitol. Prettner Solon, who led a panel on Capitol safety, favored tougher gun restrictions than Dayton.
“The governor has his initiatives he’s working on and I have my initiatives I’m working on,” she said. “I think I expected to be more involved in some policy initiatives, and I found ways to do that.”
Prettner Solon’s support was critical in helping the Democratic governor win votes in northern Minnesota in his first campaign for governor. She said it’s up to Dayton to pick her replacement on the ballot.
Several names already have been floated for that position, including former state Rep. Tony Sertich, who now runs the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board; Dayton’s chief of staff, Tina Smith; and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. Sieben worked in Dayton’s office when he served in the U.S. Senate.
Prettner Solon’s announcement wasn’t a surprise. Prettner Solon said in August that she and the governor have a distant relationship and she wasn’t sure if she would seek another term.
Late last week, she said she had made her decision but wanted to meet with the governor before making her plans public. The two lawmakers met for about 40 minutes on Monday to discuss their political future together.
Dayton was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting but thanked her for her “distinguished service” in comments posted on the governor’s website.
He said that many of the policy initiatives and administrative accomplishments she has championed have improved the lives of Minnesotans, and set our state on course for a better future.
“Throughout her 25 years of devoted public service … [she] has been a courageous champion for the people of Minnesota,” Dayton said, citing her “tireless leadership on behalf of Minnesota’s senior citizens and people with disabilities.”
He added: “I pledge my continuing support for the important initiatives she has championed.”
Prettner Solon said the governor didn’t specifically ask her to run for another term when he learned of her hesitancy.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert was quick to use the announcement to attack his political opponent. Seifert said Prettner Solon’s departure is symbolic of Dayton’s “war on rural Minnesota” — a likely campaign theme for the former House minority leader from Marshall.
Seifert said she was an “untapped resource” by Dayton on rural Minnesota issues. “I talk to my lieutenant governor more than Mark Dayton talks to his, and I don’t even have one,” he said.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin thanked Prettner Solon for her years of service. “As an elected official, Yvonne always had a good sense of what is most important to the state and its citizens,” Martin said in a statement “She recognized that our state does better when all of its citizens do better and when no one is left behind.”
Prettner Solon’s career in politics started in the late 1980s with a last-minute decision to run for a Duluth City Council seat. “I ended up filing on the very last day – just 10 minutes before the office was set to close,” she said. “I was so nervous and shaking so badly that I couldn’t fill out the form legibly and I had to ask for another one.”
She won that race with a wide margin and served 12 years on the council before being diagnosed with breast cancer and stepping aside. But not long after she successfully completed treatments, her husband, state Sen. Sam Solon, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
“He died 10 months later,” she said. “That was the saddest day of my life.”
The day after his funeral, Prettner Solon and a group of friends decided she should run to take his place in the Senate, and in January 2002 she won a special election for his seat. She served two terms in the Senate before joining Dayton on the gubernatorial ticket.
Prettner Solon didn’t close the door to running for a different office one day, but said she needs a “little break.” She’s also had some job offers from corporate boards but declined to cite specifics.
“I’m ready to move into the third phase of my life,” she said.