Minnesota Gov. Dayton, 69, collapses during speech

SST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton collapsed while delivering his State of the State speech on Monday, striking his head on a lectern. The 69-year-old Democrat appeared to be conscious as he was helped into a back room several minutes later, and three colleagues and his son said he seemed to be OK.

Dayton spokesman Linden Zakula said the governor walked out of the Capitol under his own power. House Speaker Kurt Daudt said that Dayton was “up and about” minutes after the incident and that the governor would be all right. Sen. Dan Schoen, who is also a paramedic, was among those who went to Dayton’s aid; he said Dayton was acting normally within 20 minutes of the collapse and poking fun at himself.

Dayton’s son Eric, who was watching the speech from the House gallery, tweeted that his father was with him and he was “doing great.” Eric Dayton also tweeted that the governor was doing “a very advanced puzzle” with his grandson Hugo, “so that has to be a good sign!”

The governor’s office said more information on his condition would be released shortly. Nearing his 70th birthday on Thursday, Dayton has a history of health problems.

Dayton was hospitalized in February 2016 after he fainted at a hot and crowded event. His office said at the time that he had been feeling pressure in his lower back — he had undergone elective back surgery the previous December — before he lost consciousness. Dayton spent just a day in the hospital, and said afterward he had been treated for dehydration.

In addition, a series of back and hip surgeries in recent years has left him with a permanent limp.

The governor fell about three-fourths of the way through his speech as he laid out the opening salvo in a brewing battle with Republican legislative majorities over where to bring the state after November’s elections, including his proposal for a state-run public health care option for all Minnesota residents.

Dayton appeared to stumble as he first entered the House chamber, but joked it away, saying he should have attended the walkthrough. But he appeared to lose his place in his remarks roughly 40 minutes into his speech, trailing off in the middle of a sentence before pausing to take a long drink of water for a bottle he had below the lectern.

When he tried to resume his address, he spoke only a few slurred words before his shoulders appeared to shake and he crumbled behind the lectern, striking his head. A frantic voice could be heard over the microphone saying “get him to the ground. Get him to the ground please” as those around Dayton rushed to assist him.

Daudt and fellow Republican legislative leaders declined to comment on Dayton’s speech, instead only offering their prayers for his health and safety.

“That’s our whole focus right now, just praying for our governor,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.

Facing a unified GOP front for his final two years in office — Republicans took back control of the Senate and strengthened their House majority in November — Dayton increasingly looked to the past as he seeks to cement his legacy.

Dayton entered office in 2011 tasked with solving a $6 billion budget deficit. After a stalemate with Republican majorities led to a 20-day government shutdown that year, he and Democrats united to control the Capitol in 2013. They raised taxes on the state’s wealthiest earners, increased the minimum wage and legalized same-sex marriage.

The state has posted several years of surpluses, and the governor has pointed to that financial stability as a hallmark of his six years in office, insisting he’ll safeguard against a return to painful budget shortfalls.

“In 2010, I campaigned for governor on the promise of a better Minnesota. Now, and two years from now, I expect to be judged by you, the people of Minnesota, on how well I have kept that promise,” he said during his remarks. “In my first inaugural address, I promised that I would `clean up the state’s financial mess.’ I have kept my word.”

Dayton was light on details for his own budget proposal, which he was previously scheduled to unveil Tuesday, though he did call for another increase to the state’s per-pupil funding formula in public schools and more funding for early education options. He’s already sketched out his plans for more than $300 million in tax relief that’s heavy on credits for low-income families and farmers and urged lawmakers to approve more than $1 billion in a public construction backlog — the Legislature never passed a major infrastructure package last year.

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