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Lieutenant Governor candidate Tina Smith visits Worthington

Tina Smith made an informal stop Thursday afternoon at BenLee’s in Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Nearly 30 years ago, Tina Smith and her husband, Archie, moved to Minnesota. 

Now, she’s a candidate to be the state’s next Lieutenant Governor.

“My name is Tina Smith and I am the candidate for Lieutenant Governor with Mark Dayton,” Smith told a group of more than 20 people at BenLee’s Cafe Thursday afternoon. “First of all, I really, really want to thank you for coming and spending a little bit of this spring afternoon to come talk with me. I really want to say that the Governor says hello to everyone.”

Smith began her work with Dayton as his chief of staff. But recently, her role has changed as the governor tabbed her as his running mate in this year’s elections.

“I’ve worked in the public sector, the private sector, I’ve worked for the mayor of Minneapolis, but I have to tell you the best job I’ve ever had so far is serving as Mark’s chief of staff,” Smith said. “I kind of came in with him at the very beginning of the term in 2011. If you think about where we were in 2011, the state had lost over 120,000 jobs in the terrible economic downturn, our state budget was about $6 billion out of whack and things were tough.”

Because the Democrats had lost control of both the House and Senate, Smith said, Dayton had to play a lot of defense in his first two years.

“His hockey goalie credentials, I think, put him in good stead,” she said. “He stopped a lot of bad things from happening. I think we can say today that had it not been for Mark Dayton those first two years, Minnesota would look a lot more like Wisconsin than we do today.”

Before taking questions from those in attendance, Smith shared a little of her background.

“I moved to Minnesota almost 30 years ago with my brand new husband, we were just newly married,” she said. “We moved here because we had jobs, which was really great. We were just out of school. We didn’t have much but a beat up orange car with no defroster. We moved here and we had a lot of student debt, but it looked like a pretty wonderful place.”

She began working for General Mills, but soon became involved in politics with state senate races, city council races and mayoral races.

From the very beginning of Dayton’s administration, Smith has been by his side, including a controversial decision to expand health care through a federal Medicaid exemption.

“Here we are, announcing this executive order and the reception room fills up with protesters,” Smith said. “As he stands at the podium, they shout him down, they won’t let him speak... The governor knew what to do, he said to the people in the room, in Minnesota, we don’t always agree, but we do respect one another. If you show me the respect of letting me finish, I will give you my podium so you can make your comments. And that’s what happened.”

Smith said that if Dayton is defeated, that courtesy wouldn’t be extended back.

“I can tell you, if we don’t win this election, there is going to be somebody else standing at that podium,” she said. “Trust me, they aren’t going to invite us up to share our point of view. I don’t believe they are going to be looking to make the same kinds of investments in early education that we’ve made. In fact, they can roll all that back. All of that is just laws that can be taken out of law.”

After Democrats won both the House and the Senate, Smith said Dayton was able to make progress.

“If you think about where we’ve come, we balanced the state budget — we actually have a surplus now — we paid back all of the money the state had borrowed from our school districts,” she said. “We balanced the budget by asking the richest Minnesotans to pay more, we used that money to not only close the deficit but also to make investments in education, in early education and all-day kindergarten. We really started turning the corner on property taxes so property taxes can start going down again. I think that is a record to be proud of.”

As Smith prepared for her next stops in Worthington, she again expressed how much she enjoys visiting with constituents.

“I’ve said, ‘I’ll go anywhere and do anything to talk to people about what you’ve accomplished and what’s at stake here,’” Smith said. “It’s a real privilege to be able to do this. And it’s wonderful to be here with all of you.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.