Lt. Gov. Tina Smith stood behind Gov. Mark Dayton for the past four years. Now she stands with him.
Smith is two weeks into her new job. It's a position that has little definition, but she's trying to change that.
Former Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon once complained that she and Dayton never talked, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Smith.
Smith says she never thought about becoming lieutenant governor -- she served as Dayton's chief of staff during his first term -- and she's yet to become a recognizable figure around the Capitol.
During a conversation with the sergeant at arms inside the Senate chambers at the beginning of this session, Smith says she was mistaken for a page.
"We were chatting and after a while he said, ‘Now, who are you? Are you one of the pages?'" Smith says. "Of course I laughed. I said, ‘This is great, because I'm 56 years old, so if he thinks I'm a page, I'm in good shape.' But, of course he was really embarrassed."
Fact is, Smith has been far from invisible. After serving as chief of staff, she was named Dayton's running mate last February and was visible on the campaign trail.
Now that she's lieutenant governor, she fills a role that the state constitution grants no powers or duties.
Many of her predecessors have floundered, but Smith doesn't plan to follow suit.
"The idea of really playing a senior role and an ambassador for the governor is one that I'm very interested in," Smith says. "And in addition, as a former business person myself, I'm very excited to keep on working on jobs and economic development issues. And so that's a great role and we don't need a constitution to define that for us."
When Smith was chief of staff, she was given credit for bringing all sides together to help get a Vikings stadium deal done. She did it again last year to create the Rochester Destination Medical Center.
Smith says she hopes to continue bridging partisan divides in her new role.
"One of the things we're going to need to do in this legislative session is talk to both sides of the aisle, and so I'm hoping I can be helpful with that."
Smith says she's still getting used to her new job and answering awkward questions from reporters, including one she recently fielded about whether she might run for governor in four years. (She says she doesn't know yet.)
Smith says the one thing she wants to help accomplish legislatively this year is to drive the discussion on workforce development. She says there are 70,000 empty jobs in the state, and wants lawmakers to work toward making graduating Minnesota students ready to fill them.
Legislative leaders say they're interested in workforce development, too.
Asked what her biggest surprise as the new lieutenant governor has been thus far, Smith says she's been enamored with Minnesota's beauty during her travels.
"Traveling around the state and seeing it with the eyes of a candidate and now lieutenant governor, it is such an amazing state," she says. "It sounds kind of corny, but it is such an amazing, rich, beautiful state, and I've kind of fallen in love with it all over again. Kind of like a second honeymoon between me and Minnesota."