MN Senate Update: Franken Wins; Coleman to Appeal
Alright, for those outside the USA (and those who do not follow politics closely), here is the situation. In the U.S., each state is supposed to have two senators. (A third of the U.S. Senate is elected every 6 years. It is expected to have less turnover than the House of Representatives, all 435 of whom must be reelected every two years.) But MN currently only has one senator, Amy Klobuchar. Why? Because last November, the election was too close to call. A third party candidate won just enough votes to make the contest between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) (a former liberal, anti-Vietnam War protester who switched to the Republican Party out of sheer opportunism when they were winning–and still narrowly beat a dead man (the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) to win his senate seat in ’02!) and former comedian turned author and political commentator Al Franken (D-MN) into a virtual tie. On election night, Coleman was ahead by a little over 200 votes–so close that it triggered an automatic recount under MN state law, although Coleman called on Franken to concede for the sake of MN anyway.
An automatic machine recount narrowed Coleman’s lead even more and triggered a statewide hand recount. This was scheduled for December. It was overseen by a canvassing board equally composed of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and done in full view under camera. When all was finished in January, Franken had taken the lead by 225 votes. Then Norm Coleman sued Al Franken, claiming that many legally cast ballots were not counted.
The trial, conducted by a MN Election Court, a 3-judge panel created by the MN Supreme Court, lasted 7 weeks. Six of those weeks consisted of Coleman’s case which was, according to legal experts, ridiculous and constantly destroyed by the crack legal team assembled by Al Franken. (Franken had expected the election to be close and his campaign prepared for a recount and legal challenges, hiring the best election law lawyers in the state.) Franken’s team took only a week for a rebuttal. Yesterday, the Election Court rendered its verdict. It agreed with Coleman that some ballots previously rejected should be counted: the result was that Franken picked up more votes than Coleman and won with 312 votes. The court rejected Coleman’s appeal to set aside state law and use more lenient standards to count more rejected absentee ballots. The court said that Franken is entitled to have his election certified, but stopped short of ordering Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue one. The certificate is held up because Coleman has 10 days to file an appeal, and has said he would.
He is appealing to the MN Supreme Court on equal protection grounds. Legal blogger Rick Hasen gives several reasons why it is unlikely that any appeal by Coleman will succeed. However, Coleman can keep Franken from being seated while he continues to appeal. (However, MN has a sore loser law. Since Coleman sued Franken after the recount and lost, he has to pay all of Franken’s court costs and lawyer’s fees, plus his own. So, he’s going to have to raise funds for any further appeals.)
Further wrinkles: MN’s Supreme Court has 7 judges, the majority of whom are Republicans (but who have shown little patience with Coleman’s tactics during the recount). 2 of them were involved in the hand recount, so they have recused themselves. A 3rd judge has been a donor to Coleman’s campaign and is being pressured to recuse himself! That would leave 4 judges: a potential tie!
Why is Coleman appealing when he has little chance of winning and the absence of full representation in the Senate is hurting MN? Because Franken would be a 59th Democratic Senator, meaning that Democrats would need only 1 Republican vote in the U.S. Senate to break any attempted Republican filibuster. So, the national Republican party is funding Coleman’s appeals in order to keep Franken from his seat. But Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is in charge of electing as many Republican senators as possible (he is chair of the National Republican Senate Committee), is spending huge sums on this one seat that he won’t have available for other GOP candidates in the 2010 mid-term elections. Pressure is coming on Coleman to give up and on Gov. Pawlenty to issue Al Franken’s election certificate, even if Coleman decides to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Pawlenty has presidential hopes, but if he continues to drag this out, he could lose reelection as MN Governor. As it is, if there was a new election today (which MN law does not allow and which the state cannot afford during this recession), Coleman would lose by an even larger margin. Many of those who voted for him are now angry at Coleman’s refusal to bow to the inevitable and admit that he lost.
Is this any way to run a democracy?
UPDATE: Public Policy Polling shows 63% of MN voters now think that Coleman should concede, while only 37% believe Coleman should appeal the Election Court’s decision. That’s nearly 2:1 calling on Coleman to quit. 59% believe that Gov. Pawlenty should sign Franken’s election certificate and that Franken should be seated even if appeals continue. It’s clear: MN voters are tired of this race. Even those who voted for Coleman believe he lost and think he would do better to quit now and challenge Franken again in 6 years.
So, they should put pressure on both Coleman and Pawlenty. They have waited patiently through recounts and a court case. Now it’s time to protest outside Coleman’s home and the Governor’s office.
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