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Smith set to be Minnesota’s next senator as Bachmann considers running

Then-U.S. Sen. Al Franken listens to a question from Minnesota Farrmers Union President Doug Peterson Aug. 21, 2014, at the Minnesota State Fair. He resigned from the Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
A copy of Al Franken's letter resigning from the U.S. Senate. Provided by Franken's office2 / 4
Minnesota House Majority Leader Erin Murphy has the attention of three Democratic candidates Oct. 29, 2014, as the party began a statewide bus tour to rally people to vote. From left are Murphy, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, lieutenant governor candidate Tina Smith and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
Federal spending is too high, Michele Bachmann tells an Oskaloosa, Iowa, audience, on Aug. 2, 2011. Don Davis / Forum News Service file photo4 / 4

WASHINGTON — Minnesota's best-known politician has resigned from the U.S. Senate while a well-known political celebrity considers running for the job.

Al Franken resigned as senator at noon Tuesday, Jan. 2, as Lt. Gov. Tina Smith prepared to replace him Wednesday.

In the meantime, an interview with former U.S. Sen. Michele Bachmann, who sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, surfaced in which she said she is trying to determine if God is calling her to run for the Senate.

"I have had people contact me and urge me to run for that Senate seat," Bachmann told televangelist Jim Bakker as they talked about Christian principles. "The only reason I would run is to take these principles to the U.S. Senate."

She said that God had called her to the presidential campaign, but "am I being called to do this now? I don't know."

In the Dec. 27 interview that came to light Tuesday, Bachmann said that "the swamp is so toxic" in Washington that it is hard for Christians. "If you are going against the tide in D.C., if you are trying to stand up for biblical principles ... the blades come whirring and they try to chop you off. This is not an easy place to be."

Bachmann downplayed eight women's sexual misconduct accusations against Franken, adding "I am not saying he didn't do some bad-boy things." However, she said, Democrats pushed him out of office because they "wanted to look pure."

In his resignation letter, Franken made no mention of the sexual harassment allegations, some of which date back more than a decade.

"Serving the state of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate has been a privilege and an honor," Franken said in a letter to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Smith, Vice President Mike Pence and the secretary of the U.S. Senate. "I am grateful to Minnesotans for giving me the chance to serve our state and our nation, and I am proud to have worked on their behalf."

Last month, Dayton appointed Smith, 59, to replace Franken.

She has been his lieutenant governor since early 2015, serving as his chief of staff before that. She also has worked in marketing and was a top official of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Smith is to be sworn in at 11 a.m. Central time Wednesday, with a public reenactment at 11:25 a.m. in the old Senate chamber. The ceremony will be streamed at www.C-Span.org.

She is expected to keep all or most of Franken's staff.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether she would sit on the same committees as Franken. It also was not clear if she would rank 99th or 100th in Senate tenure. A complicated tenure formula leaves a question about if she would outrank new Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.

Smith's Senate seat will be on the ballot this November and she says she will run for the remaining two years of Franken's term.

Also announcing she will run this year is state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, like Bachmann a former presidential hopeful, often is mentioned as a possible candidate.

As Smith resigned effective at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, ramifications reverberate around the Minnesota Senate.

Upon Smith's resignation, the state Constitution requires state Senate President Michelle Fischbach, a Paynesville Republican, to become lieutenant governor.

However, there is a debate about whether Fischbach can remain a senator while serving as the No. 2 person in the executive branch. While the state Constitution forbids someone serving in legislative and executive branches at the same time, Republican senators point to an 1898 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling allowing that to happen temporarily.

Fishbach's executive branch service will end in early 2019 when a new governor-lieutenant governor team takes office.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, says he will file suit if Fischbach is president when the Legislature returns to work on Feb. 20.

If the courts order Fischbach to resign and Democrats win a Feb. 12 election to fill a Senate vacancy, each party would have 33 senators. That tie would be broken by a special election to replace Fischbach.

A Senate Republican spokesman said that Fischbach, as lieutenant governor, "isn't going to do anything, just remain a senator."

Her only constitutional duty is to become governor if Dayton cannot continue in office.

If Fischbach is forced out of the Senate, Republicans are looking into her resigning as lieutenant governor and replacing her with a Democrat as Senate president, perhaps someone in a district the GOP could win in a special election.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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