Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has picked Tina Smith, his chief of staff and a longtime veteran of local and statewide political campaigns, to fill a vacancy for lieutenant governor on the 2014 ballot.
Dayton revealed his new running mate at a Tuesday morning rally at the AFL-CIO headquarters in St. Paul. The announcement comes just weeks after Dayton’s current second-in-command, former state Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, announced she would not seek another term alongside the governor this fall. Several other candidates were considered for the post, including Senate assistant majority leader Katie Sieben and former House majority leader Tony Sertich.
Dayton and Smith have been close allies since she joined his campaign for governor in 2010. After winning the general election, Dayton quickly named Smith his chief of staff, touting her long ties to the state’s business community and ability to build bridges with Republicans. Smith attended Stanford University before earning her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She moved to the Twin Cities for a marketing job at General Mills and eventually founded her own marketing and communications firm that worked with state and national foundations.
Dayton made Smith his lead on government reform projects, and during the 2013 legislative session, he assigned her the task of lobbying legislators to pass a huge subsidy for a Destination Medical Center (DMC) surrounding the Mayo Clinic. After months of political wrangling, a deal was reached and Dayton picked Smith to lead a board overseeing the construction effort in Rochester.
In choosing Smith, Dayton is also bringing on an able-bodied and experienced campaigner in his race for re-election. The 67-year-old governor is already the oldest in the state’s history, and he will go into surgery at the Mayo Clinic Thursday to try and fix persisting hip pains. The post-surgery healing process will require him to wear a hip brace for up to three months.
Smith has a long campaign resume. She started volunteering in Minneapolis DFL politics in the early 1990s, cutting her teeth on local and statewide campaigns and eventually serving in leadership positions at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Worked for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
Smith also served four years as former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff before leaving to manage his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, which ended after he lost the DFL endorsement. After Rybak announced he would not seek another term in 2013, Smith was briefly floated as a possible contender to replace him.
Dayton managed to strike a gender balance in choosing Smith – there hasn’t been a male lieutenant governor in Minnesota since 1983 – but he lost a regional harmony by picking a fellow Minneapolis resident as his running mate. Prettner Solon, who hailed from Duluth, was key in helping Dayton securing votes in northern Minnesota in his first run for the governor’s office. Republicans are already fashioning a 2014 campaign message that portrays Dayton as out of touch with rural Minnesota.