The Challenge Of Replacing Franken [Opinion]

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On December 7, Al Franken took to the Senate floor in what was likely the final address to his colleagues in the Upper Chamber. After a number of women levied allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, and following weeks of unabated turmoil in which his political support had undeniably collapsed, the junior senator of Minnesota announced his intention to resign.

While Franken’s withdrawal from Washington won’t take place immediately, the embattled senator’s impending departure has thrown the Minnesota DFL into a veritable chaotic frenzy. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Governor Mark Dayton may very well have found himself smack dab in the center of a tug-of-war between state and national democratic powerbrokers.

On one side, it’s been revealed that the party bosses in D.C., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have indicated their desire to see Dayton appoint a replacement well-suited to charge headlong into a near-term special election and beyond, an individual who can almost immediately hit the ground running and develop a financial war chest. However, local DFL leaders appear to exhibit a preference of tapping a placeholder uninterested in standing for reelection, thereby creating a cavernous opening for the emergence of numerous clamoring candidates.

Al Franken and Chuck Schumer prepare to deliver remarks.
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The question for Dayton rapidly becomes, is the not so distant goal to merely fill a void in the hopes of imparting a sense of electoral fair play, or is the goal to build a bulwark against the possibility of losing a critically-important federal seat at a pivotal time? I strongly suspect that the only reasonable approach is not to cede the initiative, but to regain the momentum.

If one is truly convinced that a Democrat is the premier choice to represent all Minnesotans in Washington, as the governor surely is, there’s undeniably little in the way of an upside to appointing a veritable lame duck to fill Franken’s seat. It makes little sense to afford the opposition an opportunity they’d unlikely reciprocate if the roles were reversed. It makes even less sense to abandon the inherent voting booth benefits afforded by incumbency.

Governor Mark Dayton addresses the press.
Featured image credit: Stephen MaturenGetty Images

The practical decision, the victory-oriented decision, is to recruit reliable and demonstrable star power. It’s to spend the next several weeks exhaustively vetting a select crop of marquee names. It’s evaluating individuals possessing federal ambitions, stellar reputations, and superb public service records. The sensible move is to find a person who can immediately take a prominent stand on society’s most pressing issues and can place a crop of his or her yet unnamed challengers firmly onto their reactive back feet right out of the gate.

The objective should be the selection of someone so recognizable that all other names on the ballot are rendered obscure. It should be the selection of a candidate of demonstrable poise and clout, a person who can not only reduce the prospects of casting a vulnerable party into a bruising primary, but can quickly establish a robust campaign apparatus capable of successfully withstanding the coming torrent of negative oppositional narratives. Perhaps most importantly of all, the aim should be the appointment of an individual who is well-suited to win an election in a state where the GOP’s ascension has not yet been stalled.

Ultimately, if you’re a liberal, outnumbered in St. Paul and Washington, now is not the time for detrimental idealism, but rather, ruthless political pragmatism.