Barkley Says Getting Up to Speed Quickly Would Be Biggest Challenge for Appointed Senator

December 06, 2017 07:44 PM

If embattled Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken announces his resignation Thursday, it will fall to Gov. Mark Dayton to appoint his successor.

And if that person is looking for advice, the last Senator appointed to a seat from Minnesota is available.


That would be Dean Barkley, who was appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura to finish out the term of Democrat Paul Wellstone after Wellstone was killed in a plane crash while campaigning in October of 2002.

RELATED: Franken's Support Fades as Democrats Call for Resignation

Barkley, an independent, served just two months. Republican candidate Norm Coleman defeated the man who replaced Wellstone on the ballot – former Vice President Walter Mondale – in the general election, and took office to begin his own term.

WATCH: Dean Barkley Sworn in as U.S. Senator in 2002

"There's nothing magical about it," Barkley said Wednesday afternoon. "It's like any new job. You have to learn the rules and get to know the other people you have to deal with.

"And you have to decide what you want to accomplish – what your agenda is going to be."

RELATED: The Calls for Sen. Franken's Resignation

For Barkley, who did not caucus with either the Democrats or the Republicans, the biggest challenge was putting a staff together on short notice.

"Presumably the person Gov. Dayton would appoint would be a Democrat," Barkley said. "So that would hopefully give them a huge advantage over me. I didn't have anything like that to rely on.

"Since I didn't caucus with either the Democrats or Republicans, neither caucus was a whole lot of help in getting organized. Fortunately, I knew former Sen. Lowell Weicker (of Connecticut) and he helped a lot."

RELATED: Flashback Friday: US Senate Race in 1978 Pitted Johnnie vs. Tommie

Minnesota law would require a special election for the Senate seat next November – the next statewide election. That would mean two Senate seats would be up in the same year, as well as the governorship.

"It will certainly mean a lot of eyes on Minnesota, and a lot of dollars spent here," said Matt Lindstrom, a political science professor at St. John's University, and the director of the school's Eugene McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.

The winner of that special election would then fill the remainder of Franken's term, meaning they would likely be running again in 2020.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said that will create a real fundraising challenge for whomever Dayton appoints, if indeed that person intends to run in 2018.

"I was kidding with my students today, saying we're all in the wrong business," Schultz said. "The business we should be in is selling advertising space on television and radio stations. Because I'd estimate a minimum of $75 to $80 million will be spent on those two Senate races alone.

"It could crack $100 million."

RELATED: Flashback Friday: Perpich Pulled Off Comeback in Return to Governor's Chair 35 Years Ago

The last time both Senate seats and the governorship were up for election in the same year in Minnesota was 1978. That year, the seat that had been held by former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who died that past January after a battle with cancer, was open. His wife Muriel had been appointed by then-Gov. Rudy Perpich to take his place, but Muriel was not going to be a candidate in that race.

Instead, Democratic businessman and former sports franchise owner Bob Short competed against Republican David Durenberger.

Meanwhile, Wendell Anderson resigned as governor in 1976 to be appointed to fill the Senate seat left vacant when Mondale resigned after being elected vice president. In 1978, Anderson ran against Republican Rudy Boschwitz. 

The Republicans won both races, and Al Quie defeated Perpich in the race for governor as well.

Lindstrom said the trend in midterm elections usually favors the party that doesn't hold the White House, which would bode well for Democrats. But he added there could be residual impact from the multiple sexual harassment allegations against Franken, which have led to the calls for his resignation.

"There will definitely be some Franken baggage," Lindstrom said. "How much, and what weight it will have, is hard to say. Some of that will likely depend on the quality of the candidates the Republicans nominate in those races too."

Schultz said given the circumstances that would have led to Franken's departure, Dayton would likely consider appointing a woman. He listed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum as potential choices, but called State House Minority Leader Rep. Melissa Hortman a potential dark horse pick.

And he said State Rep. Peggy Flanagan, who has already been announced as the Lt. Governor pick for DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz, could be a possibility as well.

He said some Republicans already announced as candidates for races like the governorship could reconsider and make a run for Franken's Senate seat. And he mentioned party heavyweights like Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty (though he discounted that possibility) and Rep. Tom Emmer as well.

Before any election happens, though, Barkley said a potential appointed Senator will have to worry about getting themselves up to speed.

"That's the No. 1 thing," Barkley said. "Just getting your bearings as a Senator and getting acclimated to that role. Getting to know how the Senate operates, and all the people you need to work with.

"It makes for a very challenging first couple of weeks."


Frank Rajkowski

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