Gov. Mark Dayton slurred his words and fainted briefly near the end of a 45-minute State of the State speech Monday night at the Capitol.
Several people nearby, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, caught him as he lurched forward, struck his forehead on the lectern and then sank toward the floor in the House chambers in St. Paul.
Legislators immediately adjourned the gathering, and Dayton appeared to be seated upright and aware shortly after the incident, and he was escorted out of the room. The governor, who turns 70 on Thursday, was not taken to a hospital, a spokesman said.
Dayton’s son Eric in a tweet said his father was “doing great” and thanked people for their support. The governor’s office later said Dayton was at home after a routine check and planned to present his budget as scheduled on Tuesday morning.
“He quickly recovered, walked out of the Capitol, and returned home,” Dayton’s chief of staff, Jaime Tincher, said in a statement.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, expressed their well wishes for the governor, adding that they would hold off responding to his speech until Tuesday at the earliest.
“Governor Dayton is in my thoughts and prayers tonight,” Daudt said in a statement. “I was encouraged to see him walk from the House Chamber on his own, and I join Minnesotans in wishing him a speedy recovery.”
Last January, Dayton fainted at a political event and was hospitalized overnight for observation.
Tincher said in a statement at the time that the event was hot and crowded, and Dayton fainted after feeling increasing pressure in his lower back.
Before the incident, Dayton gave most of his penultimate State of the State address, unveiling a broad vision for his final two years in office that calls for targeted “public investments” that include $371 million in additional funding for schools and the creation of a public health-insurance option.
Upbeat statistics noted
While reflecting on his six years as Minnesota’s chief executive, Dayton touted a number of metrics that have improved during his stewardship of the state.
The unemployment rate has fallen by nearly half from when Dayton first took office in January 2011, from 6.9 percent to 3.9 percent in December.
Instead of the massive budget deficit facing Minnesota six years ago, state budget officials currently project a surplus of $1.4 billion, and the state’s overall fiscal picture has improved, including a rainy-day fund that has a reached $2 billion, a record.
Dayton, however, quickly pivoted to pressing problems facing Minnesota that he said will require bipartisan agreement, including aging roads and bridges, diminished water quality and racial disparities that threaten the state’s economic future.
Dayton, in his prepared speech, said “We will never solve the problems facing Minnesota, unless we first resolve our own. That is, our unwillingness to work together.”
Dayton pledged to safeguard the state’s budget from big tax cut proposals he said could push the state into deficit in future budget cycles. He spoke at length about economic uncertainty, including widening income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class which he said state leaders should tackle more aggressively.
“We cannot entirely escape the ups and downs of the U.S. economy,” Dayton said, adding: “If our country is going to be mired in an era of slower economic growth, our public investments must be even more targeted to ensure that our state’s economic performance remains superior to most other states.”
To that end, Dayton called for additional spending on public schools that would ensure state funding keeps pace with inflation to avoid program cuts.
“When I took office in 2011, I promised to increase Minnesota’s investments in E-12 education every year I was governor — with no excuses, no exceptions,” Dayton said. “With your support, we have kept that promise, and I’m not going to abandon it now.”
Though he fainted before getting to the part of his speech about health insurance, the full text shows Dayton outlining a new public option for some Minnesota consumers facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums.
The governor is proposing the creation of a public option available to Minnesotans who make between 201 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line. For a family of four, qualifying household income would be between $49,200 and $97,200 annually.
If enacted, qualifying consumers would be able to purchase MinnesotaCare coverage, a publicly funded health insurance aimed at low-income residents. Unlike the existing MinnesotaCare program, which has more than 100,000 residents enrolled, the premiums would be paid for by consumers who purchase the coverage.
Complicating the fate of such a proposal is the dramatically different political climate Dayton faces after the November election. Republicans now control the Minnesota House and Senate, giving Dayton less leverage to guide legislation through the Capitol.
But Republicans lack a veto-proof majority in either chamber, which means the threat of a veto could become an effective bargaining tool for the governor.
Just hours before Dayton’s speech, Daudt sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to take immediate action to make health insurance more affordable and ease mining restrictions imposed under President Barack Obama.
Daudt asked the president to extend the state’s open enrollment period, giving Minnesotans more time to assess their health insurance options. He is also asking Trump to grant the state permission to recreate a taxpayer backed high-risk pool, which he said will drive down costs for private insurers and lower rates for consumers.
House Republicans stand “ready to work in partnership with your administration to reverse the harmful policies inflicted by the previous administration,” Daudt wrote.
Dayton on Tuesday will unveil his final two-year budget proposal, which will guide negotiations with legislators in coming months.