Franken’s Replacement Should Be Anyone’s Guess

When Sen. Al Franken announced he was resigning Thursday, a wave of speculation built immediately on who Gov. Mark Dayton would appoint to replace him. Right now, several observers have their money on a specific person. From the AP’s Kyle Potter:

“Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s top pick to fill U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s Senate seat, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, is considering also running for the seat next year, as Dayton faces pressure from top Democrats in Washington to appoint more than a mere caretaker, according to two Democrats familiar with the discussions.”

So not only is Dayton considering Smith to serve until the special election for the seat, she’s reportedly thinking of running in said election to fill out the remaining time of Franken’s term.

However, Politico says Dayton is picking Smith because she won’t run in the special election.

“Part of the reason Smith could be heading to the Senate … sources said, is that she has indicated no interest in running for Congress in the past and would not run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which expires in 2020, in a 2018 special election. That would clear the way for a wide open Democratic primary next year.”

I have a few more buckets of cold water to throw on the idea of Smith as a long-haul senator. First off, Smith has not commented on this herself. Next — as Potter notes in his story — Smith has been through this sort of decision making process before. This spring, it was a matter of discussion whether she would run to replace Dayton, and she decided against it.

How could this statewide office possibly be more attractive? It would be the same hellish campaign season, but for a position with drastically less power than running a state’s executive branch. The race would become nationalized, with all sorts of outside groups fighting over it. Although Smith may not have to sink her own money into the campaign like with a race for governor, the tone of the race would be considerably nastier and more desperate. Think of the special election in Georgia earlier this year, or the one going on in Alabama right now. Even if Smith agrees to be the Senate replacement until the election, I don’t think she’ll run in it.

As the Star Tribune notes, Dayton picking Smith also opens up a sticky situation as to who would then replace Smith as lieutenant governor. The law says it’s president of the Senate — who right now is a Republican, Michelle Fischbach. Having an executive and lieutenant of different parties might have been a thing back in the first days of America as a nation, but it sure as heck is not going to work now, especially in a state where the governor and Legislature are now embroiled in a lawsuit against each other. Sen. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told the Strib having a GOP lieutenant under Dayton would mean “partisan chaos.”

Granted, lawmakers in St. Paul are reportedly working on a way where Fischbach wouldn’t have to be lieutenant governor, but details are still sketchy.

To avoid having to come up with a complicated legislative workaround, I think Dayton will eventually opt against choosing Smith. He’ll pick a woman civic leader from greater Minnesota or one who’s a woman of color, or both. Picking Smith would disappoint too many Dem factions and create legal issues that would make a tense situation between parties even worse.

Furthermore, he’ll want to pick someone who will run in the election after the replacement term is up, and past history indicates Smith won’t want to do that. I spoke with Congressman Rick Nolan on Friday and he felt the choice should be one in the “Mondale Tradition” — that is, someone who will run to keep the seat after being appointed. I’ve heard other Democrats want the same thing.

Dayton should listen.

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