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Mark Dayton declared winner, finally

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Governor-elect Mark Dayton
Gov.-elect Mark Dayton speaks at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, after his opponent Tom Emmer conceded the election in a morning press conference.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Former Sen. Mark Dayton vowed Wednesday to make improving Minnesota's economy his first order of business when he takes office as governor in January.

"Now the real work begins," Dayton said during a news conference at the State Capitol. 

Dayton will become the first Democrat to be elected Minnesota governor since 1986, after a statewide recount confirmed he received the most votes and the state Supreme Court left his opponent with few options to challenge the results.

Republican Tom Emmer conceded to Dayton Wednesday morning at his home in Delano, saying it was time for him to let Dayton and the Legislature "move ahead with the people's business."

"Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice," Emmer said.

Dayton led Emmer by less than the 0.5 percent margin needed to prevent an automatic recount of 2.1 million votes. After the recount, Dayton still led Emmer by nearly 8,700 votes.

Dayton, a department store heir who served one term in the U.S. Senate, said creating jobs would be a top priority and said he will work with the Republican-controlled Legislature to improve the state's economy.

"[Minnesotans] have high expectations for all of us that we will work together," Dayton said.

Tom Emmer
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer consoles his tearful wife Jacquie after conceding the governor's race to Democrat Mark Dayton Wednesday Dec. 8, 2010 surrounded by his family on the front porch of his home in Delano, Minn.
AP Photo/Dawn Villella

"You were elected on your platforms and principles and I was elected on mine," he said. "They want part of what each of us offers."

Dayton will be sworn into office on Jan. 3, giving him less than a month to make his transition to power, which involves hiring personnel and making appointments. Up to $162,000 in state money is available for the transition. He didn't announce any hirings during the news conference.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he and Dayton will meet Thursday to discuss the transition.

"We've always assumed the new governor would be here taking office on Jan. 3," Pawlenty said Wednesday.

The transition could turn out to be the easiest task Dayton faces. The state has a projected $6.2 billion deficit going into the next two-year budget that will be hammered out when the Legislature convenes in January, and Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie certifies election
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie signs the official certification declaring Democrat Mark Dayton the winner of the 2010 gubernatorial election on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Dayton promised on the campaign trail to make wealthy Minnesotans pay more state income taxes to help balance the budget and prevent cuts to education and health care.

During his victory speech, Dayton listed making income taxes "more progressive" among his priorities.

Dayton's supporters acknowledged that the Republican-controlled Legislature will make that promise more difficult, but they expected Dayton to stick to his principles.

"Asking the richest Minnesotans to pay their fair share of taxes, and make the same sacrifices that every other Minnesotan has made, is not asking too much so that we can continue to deliver high-quality services and to be able to invest in a jobs economy for this state," said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, which represents more than 40,000 public sector workers in the state.

AFSCME was one of the first organizations to endorse Dayton for governor in a crowded primary field that included House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former state Rep. Matt Entenza.

"He's not a typical politician. This is a person who always says what he means and means what he says," Seide said of Dayton. "You can agree or disagree with Mark, but you always know where he stands."

Elias and Magnuson
Mark Dayton attorney Marc Elias, left, and Tom Emmer attorney and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson shook hands as they wrapped up the final meeting of the State Canvassing Board for the 2010 election on Dec. 8, 2010. The board certified Dayton as the winner before adjourning.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Maple Grove Republican, said there will be disagreements but that he will work with Dayton to make Minnesota a more competitive state.  

"We've got a fundamental, philosophical difference on whether or not we should raise taxes in a down economy, but that's all right," Zellers told MPR's Midday. "Minnesotans like divided government, they like the way the process works. It may be one of the messiest in the world but it's also the best one in the world."

 MOVING AHEAD AFTER RECOUNT, SUPREME COURT OPINION

Emmer's concession came the same day that the state Canvassing Board was scheduled to review ballots that were challenged by the campaigns during the recount. 

After Emmer's announcement, campaign attorneys asked the Canvassing Board to waive the recount, which allows the board to certify Dayton as the winner.  

Emmer attorney Eric Magnuson said the campaign agreed to certify results from the Nov. 2 count because it was clear Emmer could not prevail in the recount. 

The canvassing board then certified the election.

Emmer said he wanted to let the recount take its course before conceding. He had also been waiting for a written opinion from the state Supreme Court, which two weeks ago denied a petition by the Emmer campaign requesting that election officials match the number of ballots with the number of voter signatures from Election Day.

On Tuesday, the court gave its reasoning behind the decision, giving Emmer little room to push the issue further.

Emmer said he thinks that issue and one other -- questions over whether the state's voter registration database matches the numbers of ballots cast on Election Day -- haven't been fully resolved. But he said there was no reason to delay Dayton's transition to the governor's office.

"It's time for us today to be gracious, and say the process has been run according to the law," Emmer said. "Minnesota has a new set of leaders, and I'm honored to have been part of the process."

(MPR reporter Tim Nelson and Tom Weber contributed to this report.)