2018 becoming year of reckoning in Minnesota

Sen. Al Franken in 2011. (PHOTO: John Taylor, Flickr CC)

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is expected to resign amid numerous credible accusations of past inappropriate behavior with women. This according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.

I wrote about Franken in the context of the larger issue of sexual harassment and abuse of power in a Nov. 26 column. In full disclosure, I’ve admired Franken as a writer and supported his campaigns. Thus, today brings deeply mixed emotions.

On one hand, I’m disappointed in Franken and would be sorry to lose him as a senator. On the other, I’m glad that we will again learn that no one is irreplaceable in U.S. politics. Negative action has consequences. And there is no shortage of negative action across the country.

From politics, to entertainment, to business, women across the world now find their voice to protest dehumanizing behaviors by those in positions of authority. As the numbers of stories grow, fear of retribution and public humiliation subsides. These two reasons often prevent people from raising such accusations.

As we know better, we do better. The end result could be a better workplace and world for women and men, one in which the old power dynamic gives way to equality and kindness. But for many, it doesn’t feel like that’s what will happen. Right now, many people are confused, angry, reactive and even contemptuous that sexual harassment somehow stays in the news.

That’s why next year is so important. In 2018, we’ll see what happens in a new normal. A new normal for the workplace. A new normal for politics, too. What remains to be seen is whether things get better or worse.

Because in purely political terms, this issue is only part of what’s at stake.

Assuming Franken resigns, Gov. Mark Dayton would have the option of appointing an interim senator until a special election is called next November. That means that the 2018 election could feature two U.S. Senate elections. The first: a full six-year-term seat currently held by Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She’s up for re-election. The second: a special two-year open seat held by the interim senator until that seat is due for a new election in 2020.

The last time two Senate seats were on the same ballot in Minnesota was 1978. Back then, a vacant seat prompted Gov. Wendell Anderson to resign, so that his Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich would appoint him to the Senate. The move didn’t sit well with voters.

Minnesota DFLers describe that year as the “Minnesota Massacre.” Republicans obliterated Democrats in a sweep of the governor’s race and both Senate races, turning back what was then a generation of DFL dominance in statewide races.

And while the DFL holds those offices again this year, the situation is different. First of all, Dayton — a former Perpich cabinet member — will not repeat Anderson’s mistake in playing the game of appointing himself. (Dayton seemed to despise serving in the Senate in the early 2000s anyway). He’ll likely play it safe, appointing his competent, business-oriented Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the office.

In addition, with a new senator, Franken’s misdeeds will be old news by November 2018. Whatever the heck President Trump is up to, should he still be in office, will be what’s on the ballot. That’s good, because that’s more important. If Trump’s policies are as unpopular next year as they are now, DFLers will certainly avoid a 1978-style rout.

But there’s no point making predictions. Many of my liberal friends express deep disappointment that Franken could be forced out. But in the larger picture of establishing A) a safe, kind nation, and B) a cohesive alternative to Trumpism, they will be glad to not have the distraction. In that regard, Franken’s decision becomes a worthy sacrifice. A man of his profile will have another opportunity to contribute to the good of the nation if he so chooses.

It’s a turning point for Republicans, too. In the recent sexual harassment scandal in the legislature, Minnesota Republicans proved to be consistent in demanding the resignation of lawmakers who abused their power, even including their own. But will that consistency apply to national figures like President Trump or Alabama Senate candidate (and, according to polls, most likely future Senator) Roy Moore?

Who will present the vision of the future that shapes a stronger nation? Well, we’ll find out. It could get worse if we let it. But we don’t have to tolerate it getting worse, no matter our gender or party affiliation. It might not be pretty, especially at first, but we’ll get there.


  1. Aaron…what makes you so sure Dayton “will not repeat Anderson’s mistake in playing the game of appointing himself”?

    Time Magazine, 2006: “When he was elected in 2000, Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton seemed well prepared, having worked as an aide to Walter Mondale in the 1970s. But he has exhibited erratic behavior since then: in October 2004 he shut down his office for almost a month, citing an unspecified terrorist threat. The 99 other Senators had access to the same intelligence and kept their offices open.”

    Nothing has changed…he still thinks he’s qualified, he still acts erratic, he’s still ranked as the worst senator ever by Time….a legacy he’d love to attempt to erase.

  2. Aaron, It’s great to see this dehumanizing culture fully exposed finally and more women will feel they can speak out but we also have to be careful that we get punishments and deterrents right and just. Terry has an interview on MPR with Jane Mayer and Rebecca Traister, “For Years Anita Hill Was A Canary in the Coal Mine For Women Speaking Out”. Later in the interview they talked about the degrees of bad behavior toward women varying greatly, “category confusion” and all shouldn’t carry the same penalties.

    When a dam bursts like it has with sexual assaults, there’s a real danger of going dangerously overboard. Zero tolerance in schools too often had same punishments for 6 year olds bringing a toy knife to school as an older student with a bomb. Minimum mandatory sentencing for minor offenses tied the hands of judges, offenders sent to jail instead of judges being able weighing each case individually with appropriate penalties or warnings to fit the offender and offense. Hysteria and moral panic fueled the day care sexual abuse/satanic witch hunt trials in the 80’s and 90’s and a lot of innocent people’s lives were ruined.

    I don’t want to see a one penalty fits all offenses trend happen with accusations of sexual and power abuse toward women too. It wouldn’t be right or sensible but could also set back the progress women are making being heard now.

    • I think that there is a big difference between someone being elected or retained in political office and any mandatory sentencing for offenses. Selecting, electing, and retaining a politician is much more like hiring an employee than trying a case. In most settings, having a candidate for head of sales facing accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior would be grounds for not choosing them for the job, and having a significant number of severity of accusations grounds of suspension, demotion, or firing, as we have seen repeatedly in private industry during this round of events.

      I agree with your general point, but don’t think it applies to politicians. Politicians serve at the pleasure of the people, both the general electorate and their own party membership, and the people are free to exact any standards they want. In particular, with the standards the Democrats espouse in terms of women’s issues, holding their leaders to high standards of behavior is appropriate. The GOP is free to act on a different set of standards, and any politician — looking at you, Trump and Moore — is certainly free to demand they be evaluated in the court of public opinion. through elections Anyone for whom that statute of limitations has not run out — or who is intemperate enough to defame their accusers in public — is of course also subject to the courts.

      I have a very strong suspicion that if Moore wins, as seems likely now, he will face a tribunal in the Senate that may well expel him — the GOP may not want that particular corpse hanging around their necks next fall. That would set up yet another round of elections in Alabama, perhaps with Sessions leaving DC to return to seek his old office, given Trump’s repeated denunciations of his record as Attorney General. This is all obviously speculation, but has been mentioned in DC circles already.

  3. Elanne Palcich says

    With Conyers and Franken out, that’s two less votes in opposition to the Republican tax plan.

    • Exactly…that is really all this is about…this has nothing to do with women exposing bad behaviour, this is about the Economy and the Rep’s plan to screw all of us!

  4. This whole Witch hunt has made me sick to my stomach…I am trying to think of anyone in my past that I could accuse of sexual misconduct and if anyone of them tries to run for office, I will definitely expose them. That seems to be the thing to do…Lets all remember what men OR women did to us in the past and start ruining all their lives! If this continues, there will be NO ONE qualified to run for office…and maybe that is the Republicans plan…but I will be pushing my senators and congressmen to push for getting rid of that idiot trump now too….since he has done the exact same, or worse things to women in his past…what’s good for one, should be good for all!!!!

  5. The resignations won’t really affect the Tax bill.

    Franken will be replaced before the conference committee tax bill is ready, perhaps before the conference committee even meets. Dayton has promised to announce his choice for senate in two to three days, and once appointed the new senator will be seated immediately, so the Senate will be back at full strength before the bill arrives for a vote.

    In the House, the GOP margin is so large that one vote is unlikely to make a difference. The question for the House will be how to satisfy the Tea Party wing and still keep the more moderate senators on board as well as meeting the Byrd requirements for passage — principally staying on topic and avoiding running the deficit estimates too high.

    As to the appointee, the question that seems to be at hand is whether the appointee is a place holder who will not likely be a candidate next year (remember Muriel Humphrey) or a candidate chosen to be ready for statewide election in the fall. Tina Smith ranks high on the placeholder list but is not considered a strong likelihood to run for re-election, since she reportedly doesn’t want to relocate, leaving the race open for a Darwinian selection similar to what seems to be happening in both parties for governor, although that remains to be seen.

    High on the list of potential candidates for re-election are Attorney General Lori Hanson, minority leader Melissa Hortman, and former State Senator Katie Sieben, whose family is probably third only to the Perpiches and Humphreys as DFL notables. Duluth Representative Jen Schultz is on a semi-official “finalists” list, but that seems to be most likely as a nod to Greater MN rather than a real thing.

    There is almost no doubt the DFL appointee will be a woman, given the situation.

    Who will run for the GOP is also up in the air. Daudt has implied in the past he would rather be Senator than governor. Emmer is possible. There is talk about Norm Coleman, but he will be 69, a cancer survivor, and has a connection to the Bush administration programs and is a former DFLer, both of which will be problems in relating to the people who now dominate the MN GOP. Bachman could throw an interesting wrench in the works. There may be some GOP women who are interested who I don’t know about.

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