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Dayton prepares to become 40th Minnesota governor

ST. PAUL -- Mark Dayton becomes Minnesota's 40th governor early this afternoon, and the first Democratic governor in two decades faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a Legislature controlled by Republicans.

The Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul was expected to be packed as Chief Justice Lorie Gildea administers the oath of office to Dayton, who at 63 is the oldest Minnesotan to become governor. Also being sworn in are Lt. Gov.-elect Yvonne Prettner Solon and returning state officials Attorney General Lori Swanson, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Dayton said he would call for Minnesotans to work together to solve the state's problems, topped by the budget problem. He and Republicans who will run the Legislature for at least the next two years need to figure out how to resolve deep differences.

Dayton wants to raise taxes on the rich to help balance the budget, while Republicans vigorously oppose that idea. Both sides say they know programs need to be cut.

All 201 state legislators are to be sworn in at noon Tuesday, giving Republican legislative control for the first time in four decades.

But today belongs to Dayton. His inaugural program is to be hosted by former Vice President Walter Mondale, with a military band and a youth choir providing music. McKaia Ryberg of Buffalo Lake sings the national anthem.

After the inaugural, Dayton and other state officials will be available at the state Capitol for a public open house. A Saturday ball wraps up the modest inaugural activities.

Dayton moves into the official governor's residents before Saturday's ball.

Dayton gained the governor's job by defeating two well-known Democrats in August's primary election, after not seeking his party's endorsement, and then beating Republican Tom Emmer and Tom Horner of the Independence Party in November's general election. However, it took until Dec. 8 for Emmer to concede because of the closeness of the race and a statewide recount of all 2.1 million ballots cast.

Before the inaugural, Dayton frequently praised Emmer for how he handled the campaign and his concession.

Dayton, who spent nearly two years running for governor, is one of the best-known Minnesotans to become governor. He has been in the public eye most of his life, beginning as a youngster who was heir to the Dayton Department Store fortune.

While his family long ago sold the chain, which beget Target, Dayton has been a public figure in his own right for nearly 30 years. His political background includes being state auditor, serving as a Gov. Rudy Perpich commissioner twice and being U.S. senator for six years beginning 10 years ago.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.