Dayton Selects Smith to Fill Franken's Senate Seat

December 13, 2017 05:41 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton has announced the selection of Lt. Governor Tina Smith to fill the U.S. Senate seat that will be left vacant when Al Franken's resignation is finalized.

Dayton made the announcement Wednesday morning with Smith by his side. 


"I accept this appointment, and it will be my great honor to serve Minnesota as United States senator," Smith said, adding that she plans to run for the Senate seat when it's up for re-election in 2018. "Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything that I can to move Minnesota forward, and I will be a fierce advocate in the United States Senate for economic opportunity and fairness."

Smith, as did Franken in his announcement last week, invoked the late senator Paul Wellstone's legacy, which she said she would work hard to honor when she goes to Washington.

RELATED: Franken Resigns: Feels Work as Senator has 'Improved People's Lives'

"We have so much opportunity in this state and this country, but we have so much work to do to make sure that that opportunity is broadly shared," she said. "Paul Wellstone said often, 'We all do better when we all do better.' And I will serve Minnesota in the United States Senate guided by these words, and led by these Minnesota stories."

Those stories were real-life scenarios Smith said she gleaned from traveling the state and visiting with residents who said their experiences were sometimes at odds with the national accolades and high rankings the state enjoys in many sectors. 

She cited the state's high rankings in the unemployment rate and health care, as well as the Iron Range as a mineral-rich resource, but at the same time said many families' stories reflect the opposite.

RELATED: Response to Smith's Appointment to Senate Seat

"You know, Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but I've heard stories from families who are working two full-time jobs and still struggling to find a good place to live," she said.

Smith thanked and commended Franken for his service to Minnesota and lauded his staff, which she said is well-regarded in Washington. She said an immediate priority will be navigating the transition to the Senate, which will include an attempt to recruit some of Franken's staff.

Franken, who had been beset by multiple sexual harassment allegations in recent weeks, announced his resignation on the floor of the Senate last Thursday.

That meant it was up to Dayton to appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a special election for the seat is held next November. The winner of that race will then fill the remainder of Franken's term, which runs through 2020. 

Smith's selection comes with a unique twist. It means State Senate President Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville, would serve as Lt. Governor for the remainder of Dayton's term. The governor is not running for re-election in 2018.

Dayton says he looks forward to working cooperatively with Fischbach. 

However, whether Fischbach can retain her seat in the State Senate while ascending to lt. governor is a subject of legal debate. 

Fischbach said Senate counsel has suggested she can occupy both roles. But in making the announcement Wednesday, Dayton said he's been advised by his legal counsel that the state constitution is clear that Fischbach would not be able to hold two offices.

He has filed a formal request for an opinion from the State Attorney General's Office, and added he wouldn't pursue a special legislative session in order to address the matter.

Though no date has been officially set for Smith to take over for Franken, she said it likely would come in early January. 

The state GOP quickly rebuked Dayton's choice in a statement issued Wednesday morning. 

"Today, Governor Dayton announced a powerful and important decision on behalf of all of us in Minnesota. Instead of nominating a leader who can effectively represent all Minnesotans, Governor Dayton chose to play politics with Senator Franken's replacement," wrote Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. "It's an underhanded 'House of Cards' style move. This is clearly an attempt to throw the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate out of balance. This decision will ripple through the next legislative session. This move is as transparent as it is political."

For his part, Franken lauded the move in a statement.

"Tina Smith will make an excellent United States Senator," Franken said. "She is a dedicated public servant who's worked tirelessly on behalf of Minnesotans, and Governor Dayton couldn't have made a better choice for this job

The 59-year-old Smith was selected as Dayton's running mate in 2014 when Yvonne Prettner Solon, who had served as Lt. Governor in his first term, elected to retire.

RELATED: Experts Say Lt. Gov. Smith's Decision Not to Run for Governor Shakes Up Race

Prior to becoming Lt. Governor, Smith served as Dayton's chief of staff during his first term. She held the same post for former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak during a period that included the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in the city.

The Stanford graduate first moved to Minnesota in 1984 to take a job at General Mills. She and her husband Archie have two sons – Sam and Mason.

After mulling a bid, Smith announced in March she did not plan to run for governor herself next year.

Both U.S. Senate seats and the governor's office will be on the ballot in 2018.

Smith becomes the first person appointed to a U.S. Senate seat by the governor in Minnesota since Dean Barkley in 2002. Barkley, an independent, was chosen by then-Governor Jesse Ventura following the death of Democrat Paul Wellstone in a plane crash in October of 2002.

With the election of Democrat Doug Jones in a special election in Alabama Tuesday, the Republicans will still hold a 51-49 edge in the Senate.

Dayton said he considered a number of qualified candidates for the job – after having received much solicited and unsolicited advice – and that he considered it all "very carefully." But the decision on Smith was his alone, he said.

"I'm confident I made the right decision."



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