Complex scenario could put Iron Ranger in Lt. Gov. chair

Tridimensional chess. (PHOTO: Shawn Brandow, Flickr CC-BY-NC-SA)

It’s difficult to analyze hypothetical situations. After all, there is no guarantee that the circumstances assumed will actually occur. But there’s a particular hypothetical floating around today that’s so complex it almost feels like a game of tridimensional chess that Captain Picard used to play on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

First premise, President-elect Joe Biden will appoint U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar to his cabinet. This is not a guarantee, of course, but Klobuchar — who played a key role in delivering the Minnesota Democratic primary to Biden last March — sits near the top of the lists for Attorney General or Secretary of Agriculture.

The appointment would also make some logistical sense. The Senate typically confirms its own members, even when the opposition holds a majority. Minnesota also has a Democratic governor to appoint her replacement, preserving the balance of power.

So let’s assume this happens. Minnesota needs a new senator. Who will Gov. Tim Walz appoint?

Well, at the top of most speculative lists is Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. There is precedent for this. When Gov. Mark Dayton had to replace former Sen. Al Franken midterm, he appointed his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who still serves in the U.S. Senate having just won re-election. Walz and Flanagan work together closely. She’s been active in the state’s COVID-19 planning. Walz holds her in high regard. Flanagan would also become the first Native American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, so the pick would have symbolic value as well.

If appointed, Flanagan would serve until a special election in 2022.

OK, so now Minnesota needs a new Lieutenant Governor. How does that work? Under the state constitution, a vacancy at Lt. Gov. would be filled by the President of the State Senate. That role is largely ceremonial. The Senate Majority Leader actually directs the legislative priorities of that body. The Senate Presidency is usually held by a senior member of the caucus capable of banging a wooden hammer off and on for several hours at a time. The current president is Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).

Again, we have recent precedent. When Dayton appointed Smith almost four years ago, Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach became Lt. Gov., even though she served in the opposing party.

BUT, doing this in 2021 would remove Miller from the Senate, which is currently held by Republicans in a razor-thin 34-33 majority. That would tie the Senate at 33-33 and create a special election in a swing district. That means the DFL could actually snatch back control of the Senate under this scenario.

SO, what’s Majority Leader Sen. Paul Gazelka going to do? Today, he’s preparing to name a DFLer to the ceremonial post. And not just any DFLer — Iron Range State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm). Tomassoni shares the GOP positions on environmental and permitting policy. More importantly, he represents a district that has been rapidly shifting toward the GOP.

Even though Tomassoni won his district by 15 percentage points, President Trump carried it by about four percent. Lacking a strong DFL incumbent who can appease the good-old-boy faction of the region’s construction labor/company coalition, a strong Republican could make a serious run.

In fact, the GOP has someone on standby. Rob Farnsworth, who lost to Rep. Julie Sandstede by 40 votes in district 6A, is right there in fighting shape. And Republicans would be happy to make hay out of the fact that a tabulation error that initially put Farnsworth ahead of Sandstede was corrected to put the incumbent back on top. Voter fraud! Trump wuz’ robbed? So wuz’ Rob! It’s a whole self-contained narrative.

It’s possible Rep. David Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) could run for Tomassoni’s hypothetical open seat, but if he won that would leave a tough House race in a chamber narrowly held by the DFL.

Oh, by the way, the President of the United States still hasn’t acknowledged that he clearly lost the election, much less conceded. He’ll be actively trying to convince state legislatures to break their constitutions by not certifying the results of states that Joe Biden won.

Florida is sinking into the ocean.

And so forth.

I, uh, guess we’ll see how this goes.



  1. Fred Schumacher says

    It makes sense for Biden to appoint North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp to Ag Secretary. You don’t lose a Senate seat. Yes, I know Walz would appoint a DFLer, but the example of Tina Smith, who has not been a strong campaigner, could result in an election loss in 2022. Both Klobuchar and Heitkamp have been acolytes of Colin Peterson, who recently lost his election. (That was the stupidest vote western Minnesota ever had. Welcome to irrelevance, Minnesota ag country. It’s like Oberstar’s defeat. Those two Congressmen have probably been the most effective Minnesota ever produced.)

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