Dayton praises state recovery even as his own is slow

Gov. Mark Dayton talks about his life after public office during a news conference at the state Capitol. Brian Bakst | MPR News

This was not exactly how Gov. Mark Dayton wanted to spend the last weeks of a last turn in public office.

His voice labored and his mobility severely limited, the two-term governor and 40-year figure on the Minnesota political stage appeared Thursday in one of his final news conferences. It was his first extensive appearance in public in more than a month.

Dayton’s main objective was to highlight a fiscal turnaround during his eight years at the helm — from a $6.2 billion deficit when he came in to a $1.5 billion projected surplus to hand off to his successor, fellow Democrat Tim Walz.

“It shows a remarkable recovery from the financial shambles when I took office eight years ago,” Dayton said.

Dayton’s personal recovery from a pair of October back and spine surgeries is far from over. One procedure damaged his lungs and ability to breath without some reliance on an oxygen tank.

“My lungs have improved but they are still not nearly what they were before. Whether there will be a permanent recovery remains to be seen,” the 71-year-old said. “It’s not the way I would wish to go out as governor. That’s the biggest disappointment.”

Dayton said he had visions of touring the state to check in on projects or programs he helped usher in.

Dayton’s official last day is Jan. 7, when Walz takes his oath at noon. He and his two dogs will be moving out of the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul to an apartment in Minneapolis — on a month-to-month lease, he notes.

He said that will give him flexibility to “figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life and where I want to be.”

This is the capstone to his long public career, from his time as a state agency commissioner in the late 1970s to stints as state auditor and U.S. senator prior to becoming governor in 2011.

Dayton admitted he’ll miss the world of high-level public service.

“It’s going to be a big shift. I might have to start tweeting,” Dayton joked. “See if my followers get into double digits.”

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