Minnesota Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Al Franken

Sarah Janecek
Publisher, Politics In Minnesota
Wednesday, July 1, 2009; 11:00 AM

Sarah Janecek of Politics in Minnesota discusses the state supreme court's decision in favor of seating Al Franken in the U.S. Senate and not opponent Norm Coleman. Janecek will offer her thoughts on the contentious election, the expectations for Franken, what's next for Coleman and more.

Janeck was online Wednesday, July 1 at 11 a.m. ET.


Des Peres, Mo.: Morning, Sarah. I heard some chatter yesterday that one reason Coleman finally yielded is that he thinks he may have a future in the currently moribund Republican party. He exited with class and grace. Do you think he figured that if he had pushed his case to the Supremes that he finally would have been seen as a sore loser. How do Minnesotans feel about him at this point? Thanks

Sarah Janecek: Good morning. First, I won't disagree with your characterization of the MN State GOP as "moribund!" Democrats (we call them DFLers, here, for Democratic Farmer Labor Party) have strong locks on both state houses and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty squeaked by his reelection in 2006.

Second, I do think how Coleman believed he was being perceived -- and would be further perceived -- by the publish in pursing the contest had an impact.

Finally, the last polling we had here, by Survey USA, showed there was a pox on both Coleman's and Franken's houses because the electorate was sick of the race.


Sarah Janecek: Good morning, everyone, from Minnesota, where we're glad our U.S. Senate race is over!


Tampa, Fla.: I have a question about dem Senate race in Minnesota, jah, dat I hope you might be answer, jah? Did dat third-party candidate, I forgetten his name, eh, take more votes from dat Franken or dat Coleman, eh?

And does da winner get to put lutefisk on dat Senate dining room menu, jah?

Sarah Janecek: The third party candidate was Dean Barkley, who was appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill out the remainder of Paul Wellstone's term.

In the 2008 contest, Coleman and Franken each got 42% and, Barkley, 15.2%.

Polling at the time showed that Barkley drew about equally from both Coleman and Franken...BUT this race was so close (312 votes!) that Barkley may have made all the difference in the world.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Sarah -- Thanks for taking questions today. By way of fan of full disclosure, I've never been a fan of Norm Coleman, so am pleased with this outcome. With that in mind, my sense is that many Minnesotans have "Norm" fatigue -- and while they're glad he was gracious in defeat (myself included), they'd like to see him disappear for a while before "reintroducing" himself as a candidate for yet another office. In my view, "a while" is a bit longer than a week, and yet it sounds like he plans an announcement very soon. What do you think? Wouldn't he be better off to take some significant time away from the public stage?

Sarah Janecek: I don't disagree that there is a certain "Norm fatigue" factor. No one was more surprised than I when Coleman announced he'd have a decision about his future next week.

Here's what I'm thinking. I believe he'll announce that he intends to think about what he'll do next. The idea here was to keep some media attention on him, because going forward, it will likely be all-Franken, all the time for the next few months.


Boston: The WSJ editorial page is pretty emphatic that Franken "stole the election." Does the state media view Franken as legitimate? What about the electorate, including those that voted for Coleman?

Sarah Janecek: The state media -- and a majority of the public -- do think Franken's election was legitimate. We had an open and very public recount process.

On the other hand, there's no question that absentee ballots were counted differently by the different vote counting jurisdictions (these were counties and some big cities like Minneapolis). Unfortunately for the Republicans, Coleman's lawyers never succeeded in getting some of those ballots into evidence. So, the Minnesota Supreme Court -- an appellate court that couldn't hear new evidence -- punted. More on the losing Equal Protection argument

is here.


Behind the curve: Isn't Franken in a terribly difficult position coming into a new position seven months late in the middle of one of the most active legislative sessions in a decade or more? Oh, and he used to be on SNL and then ripped some of his Republican colleagues on the radio.

Sarah Janecek: I'm betting the Democrats in the Senate gives Franken all the support he needs to catch up.

Franken's record of GOP-bashing on his radio show may come back to haunt him; however, Minnesotans are going to give him a fresh start.

Paul Wellstone set the example here. He bashed Jesse Helms for years before serving in the Senate with him, and then apologized and worked with him when he got to the Senate.


Wokingham UK: "Democratic Farmer Labor" is a name full of 1930s or even 1890s 'Wizard of Oz' resonance and suggests a very solid tradition of left-leaning politics. I've read somewhere that this tradition in Minnesota lost its solidity for a while because of the power in more recent years of political Catholicism. Is there any truth in this?

Sarah Janecek: Love Wizard of Oz. Without consulting a history book, here's what I know. The "Democrats" in DFL were actually quite conservative, and the "Farmers" and the "Laborites" were populists/progressives.

Hubert Humphrey was key in the merger in 1944.

If by political Catholicism, you mean the abortion issue, we have interesting history here. Before Roe v. Wade, the DFL was the pro-life party, and the GOP, pro-choice. That changed when pro-life activists decided to get involved in the GOP.


Prescott, Ariz.: How does Coleman now pay for his lawyers in the FBI bribery investigation if he can't siphon off the funds from the recount and campaign funds?

Sarah Janecek: The SEC ruled that Coleman may pay for the lawsuit lawyers out of campaign funds.

Important to note is that these are only allegations in a lawsuit filed just before the election. The FBI did make inquires, but we don't know, yet, what that agency found.


Saint Paul: Will Coleman run for governor? And, between Ramstad and Coleman, who's your choice?

Sarah Janecek: I'm betting that Coleman does, indeed, explore running for governor. I've talked to Ramstad several times in the last week, and he's focused on personal matters for the next few weeks.

Our governor's race is a jumble on both sides. We created a

matrix to keep track of who's in and who's out

, which we update all the time.


Wellstone protegee?: Franken often talks about how much he admired Wellstone. Do Minnesotans views Wellstone as fondly? What will be Wellstone's influence on Franken? Frannie's influence?

Sarah Janecek: Absolutely, both Democrats and Republicans view Wellstone fondly. He stuck to his principles. More important, as I flagged earlier, Wellstone recognized his mistakes, and quickly apologized for and then rectified them.

That's going to be the fascinating part of Franken to watch: Can he do the same thing?

As for Franni Franken, I'm a huge fan. As long as Franni keeps her man honest, Al won't fly off the rails!


Arlington, Va.: So how is Michelle Bachman doing in keeping herself as the face of the Minnesota republican Party? Does she aspire for higher office, say senator?

Sarah Janecek: Bachmann has been very adept at working the messages that appeal to both the libertarian and traditional conservatives.

Plus, given she's good at raising ruckuses in news cycles, she's become a cable news darling.

As for her future? Love her or hate her, Bachmann is smart. I don't think she'll give up a Congressional seat to run for something else. If the Democrats could get their act together, they could mount a tough challenge against her.


Princeton, NJ: Wow, Sarah, you really think and type quickly.

Are Franken's health care views to the left of the Presidents (single payer? strong plan?)?

Sarah Janecek: Hey, Princeton, thanks! Franken's health care views probably are to the left of Obama's. But now that he's a Senator, Franken will have to sit down and listen to all the important health care provider players in Minnesota to hear their views.

On all the issues, Franken is going to have to keep 312 things in mind. 312 votes made him Senator. Franken has no lefty liberal mandate.


Washington, D.C.: What was it about the absentee ballots that the court thought disqualified them? Were they badly marked? unsigned? Sent too late? And what part of the assessment did Mr. Coleman disagree with?

And did he know that they were votes for him or did he just hope they were?

Sarah Janecek: Great question. And this is the muddle -- those absentee ballots. What disqualified them are the factors you have as questions. The problem for Coleman was that many of the ballots were separated from their envelopes, and thus that factor (what was on the outside of the envelope) didn't matter for some ballots.

This will be the quagmire our state and election buffs will study and ponder...those absentee ballots. By the way, a locally-owned television station, Hubbard Broadcasting, has made a data practices request (like a federal FOIA) on all these ballots, so hopefully, when all is said and done, we'll have clarity.


Minneapolis: I too wonder whether Coleman is capable of winning the governorship. First, is he (or Ramstad, for that matter) capable of winning the nomination, which will likely require hard-line pledges on no new taxes, secondly can the pivot then be made for the general election to appeal to moderates and limit support for the IP candidate?

Sarah Janecek: As you know, Minneapolis, the name of the game in MN GOP politics is getting the endorsement. About 2000 delegates will decide that next June. The only GOPer not to get the endorsement and then win the general election was Arne Carlson in 1990 (after the GOP endorsed candidate was accused of many things, including being naked in a swimming pool with teenagers...allegations that were never proved, however).

As you know, the "no new taxes" pledge has dominated our state's politics. Going forward, I'm not so sure about that. Minnesota, like other states, is broke and more red ink is the only thing on the horizon.

As for an IP (Independence Party) candidate in the governor's race in 2012, that game changed considerably when Tim Pawlenty unalloted the political contribution refund program, which we covered.


Washington, DC: Is Marc Elias the real hero of this effort for the Franken team?

Sarah Janecek: In my view? Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, was brilliant. Plus, he didn't come across to local media as being some elite East Coast lawyer. Elias charmed the pants off many Minnesota media!


Minneapolis: Rightly or wrongly, I think a lot of MN DFLers still think of this as Wellstone's "seat" and that the only reason Coleman won in the first place was because of that infamous Wellstone memorial service that spun out of control and created an opening for him.

Given those feelings, do you think Franken will be under pressure to act as a "Wellstone progressive," even though, as you rightly point out, Wellstone himself learned to make compromises? In other words, similar to what's happening with Obama, are progressives going to be disappointed?

Sarah Janecek: Absolutely. In the hearts and minds of many DFLers, this is Wellstone's seat. You can bet that will be the story for months, if not years: Comparing Al to Paul.

Franken warned his supporters yesterday he would compromise, so stay tuned to how that plays out.


T-Paw question: Is it definite that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will certify Franken having won the Senate seat?

Sarah Janecek: Pawlenty has already signed it.


Vienna, Va.: In his weekly chats here, Tucker Carlson has repeatedly and emphatically described Sen. Franken as incredibly difficult to work and get along with. What's your take on this?

Sarah Janecek: When did Tucker Carlson work with Franken?! Sometimes Franken does seem gruff. We'll have to see how he handles things, and how much he listens to his better half, Franni.


The number is 58%: It's not that he only won by 312 votes. He got 42%. That means 58% of Minnesotans voted against him, and for a more conservative candidate. No lefty mandate, indeed!

Sarah Janecek: There's a flip side to that argument, and this happens a lot in Minnesota.

Close only counts in horseshoes and all that. Democrats have tried to minimize Pawlenty's influence by continuing to point out he was elected by a plurality, not a majority.

But when all was said and done, Franken is our junior Senator and Pawlenty has the northwest suite at the Capitol in St. Paul.


NFL fan: What has deciding the Franken case done for Justice Alan Page's career? Is he now potentially a US Supreme Court nominee?

Sarah Janecek: Hey, NFL fan! I'm not sure about former Viking and now MN Supreme Court Justice Alan Page's career. My guess is that he's not interested in a higher court.

By the way, for many years, Page has played the tuba (badly, but with spirit!) along the Twin Cities marathon course.


Woodbury, MN: Can we expect to see instant runoff as the answer for future elections in Minnesota?

Sarah Janecek: I am no fan of instant runoff voting (IRV) but Minneapolis is supposed to have it this fall. For those of you not familiar with how is supposed to work, there's more here, including the favorable recent ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court.


Clarendon, Va.: Thank goodness this election is finally settled. Best of luck to Senator-elect Franken.

That said, who are the other Democratic leaders, and more importantly, up-and-comers, who stayed out of the Senate race but might run for Governor, the House or other key seats? With so much attention on Pawlenty and Coleman's future ambitions, I haven't heard about too many other Dems. Thanks.

Sarah Janecek: Clarendon, you are right. National attention may focus on Coleman and Pawlenty, but here in Minnesota, we know and follow many other candidates. Politics in Minnesota is tracking all of them (and there are plenty).


Evanston, Ill.: Who is more radical, Bernie Sanders or Al Franken?

Sarah Janecek: Al has the more radical sense of humor, but Bernie is the more orthodox socialist!


Sarah Janecek: Thanks, everyone, for your questions. For the latest political news and analysis in Minnesota (besides the Washington Post, of course), stop by PIM.

A final irony: It's been cold here the last couple days, just like it was last November. Now it can get warm, again, we have a Senator.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company