Democrat Mark Dayton was sworn in as Minnesota's 40th governor Monday, promising to deliver new jobs, a fair budget and better government services.
During an inaugural ceremony at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul, Dayton also called on the Republicans who now control the Legislature to work with him to avoid gridlock at the State Capitol.
"The past decade has left our country, our state and many of our citizens worse off than before," Dayton said during his inaugural address. "Let's get Minnesota working again by working together."
Dayton is the state's first DFL governor since Rudy Perpich left office 20 years ago. And just like Perpich, Dayton is making job creation a priority for his administration.
Dayton asked legislators from both parties to work with him to achieve his goal of bringing more jobs to Minnesota.
"We were all elected by just a fraction of Minnesotans, but our responsibility now is to serve all Minnesotans," said Dayton. "If we serve only the people who voted for us, we guarantee destructive division, and we risk paralyzing gridlock. We must do better than that. The people of Minnesota expect better from us than that. Their futures depend upon us being better than that. And I believe we will."
With the state facing a projected $6.2 billion deficit, budget discussions are expected to dominate the 2011 legislative session. Dayton is proposing an income tax increase on top earners as part of the fix, but Republicans are opposed to any new taxes.
Dayton said he will insist the final budget solution be fair, and make the overall state tax burden more progressive.
"To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase -- including no forced property tax increase -- I say, if you can do so without destroying our schools, hospitals, and public safety, please send me your bill, so I can sign it immediately," Dayton said. "Otherwise, let's begin tomorrow -- and in May, conclude this challenging, complicated, and essential process, by working together."
Dayton's third priority is improved government services. He includes education, health care and business regulations as areas where he wants Minnesotans to get more for their money. He asked every business in the state to adopt a school to help it improve. He asked every Minnesotan to volunteer at least once a month at a school, hospital or social service agency.
The new Republican Majority Leader in the Minnesota Senate, Amy Koch of Buffalo, said she thought Dayton set a respectful tone in his inaugural remarks. Koch tried to respond in kind by mostly sidestepping the obvious budget disagreement.
"I think he has some definite views on that. So do we," said Koch. "We've talked about balancing the budget within the $1.5 billion increase that is existing. So this is his day. This is the governor's day. He gets the podium."
The new Republican Speaker of the House, Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, also made it clear that he wouldn't rain on Dayton's inaugural parade. Zellers offered an upbeat review of the speech and emphasized the goals that Dayton and Republicans share.
"The jobs, the economy, making Minnesota more competitive has been one thing we've talked about all along. It was great to hear that from the governor," said Zellers. "I really look forward to working with him on making Minnesota more competitive, making our state a better place to do businesses, raise a family, to raise kids."
Zellers already avoided one potential dustup with the new governor. Earlier in the day, Dayton rescheduled his signing of an executive order expanding federal Medicaid enrollment from Tuesday until Wednesday.
Zellers, who opposes the expansion, asked Dayton to not hold the signing on the first day of the 2011 session, which is when lawmakers will be sworn into office.
Outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty was on hand for the inauguration, as well as former governors Wendell Anderson and Al Quie. Anderson, who is now the only living former DFL governor, said he was pleased to see Dayton take office.
"It restores my faith in the power of prayer. I'm very happy about it. Plus, he's going to be a terrific governor," said Anderson.
Dayton and Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon started their day at Wellstone Elementary School in St. Paul, where they served breakfast to students. Dayton said the school visit was intended to highlight the importance of volunteering.
Dayton also remembered the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone by quoting him during the inauguration ceremony: "We all do better when we all do better."
In opening remarks, former Vice President Walter Mondale said Dayton would be a true statesman.
"As the governor-elect has readied himself to take office, his focus has been on the people," Mondale said, repeating Dayton's campaign slogan of "going to work for Minnesota."
"It is the genius of Mark Dayton that he does not duck responsibility. He welcomes it," Mondale said. "Mark, we rejoice in this day."
After being sworn in as lieutenant governor, Prettner Solon said Dayton isn't afraid to be honest about the tough choices ahead for the state.
"He's someone who seeks the best answers, not the easy answers," she said. "He knows we're all in this together. He's ready to get to work and so am I."
Dayton and Prettner Solon were scheduled to greet Minnesotans during an open house at the State Capitol Monday afternoon.
They will conclude their inaugural activities Saturday with what Dayton calls a "blue jeans and black tie" ball at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which is open to the public.