Senator Al Franken !?
I'd like to extend congratulations to my friends in Minnesota who have the pleasure of welcoming their new US Senator Al Franken. It seems that you people have gained a tirelessly determined warrior. I think very few political observers would have predicted his victory with any level of confidence in early November. In fact when the canvassing board reconvened to declare Franken the winner over incumbent Norm Coleman yesterday, there were no doubt many observers watching in stunned disbelief. The margin of victory was indeed minuscule, and the race was decided by a mere 225 (or so) votes. I'd imagine there are a lot of Minnesotans marveling over the fact that their votes actually counted.
Of course Coleman and his campaign have vowed to fight on in the courts. Still it seems that perception counts for more than anything else in politics, and the declaration of a victor seems to be almost unimpeachable. I can't see any authority being willing to retract this outcome. It would be a significant subversion of the American political process. In some ways it's reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, in which that other "Al" was vanquished in our highest federal courts. Congress will return to DC today and there will be an empty seat, as Minnesota law necessitates a week delay before the declaration of an official winner. But very few question who will be occupying that seat during the next six years.
Interestingly, the GOP does have recourse to block Franken from the Upper House. Certification of the election results lies in the hands of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who came very close to becoming John McCain's running mate this past August. And while the Democratic Senate majority and its Rules Committee ordered Norm Coleman's offices closed at the Capitol building, there is some noise about the Republicans taking the matter to the federal courts. If they do, it could delay the seating of Franken for weeks, or even months. It will be interesting to see how patient the citizens of Minnesota will be with their representation cut in half by continued legal wrangling. I doubt it will make Coleman any more popular.
Indeed Norm Coleman risks looking like a hypocrite if he drags this out any further. When Franken refused to concede in the wake of the November election, while citing the need for an official recount, Coleman accused his challenger of wasting taxpayer money. Now this former Democratic mayor of St. Paul is threatening to do the same thing. By hook-or-by-crook, it seems like the Brooklyn-native is committed to retaining his power. Coleman has a tradition of being willing to sacrifice his principles to achieve position. He changed party affiliations in 1997 in a bid to attain statewide office. Now he's a long way from his roots as an anti-War progressive Democrat in the Woodstock-era counterculture.
Regardless of Coleman's odd persistence, it now appears that the Democrats will be a single vote away from ensuring cloture in the US Senate. With 59 votes, they only need to ensure the cooperation of one member from across the aisle to advance any particular piece of legislation. But there are certainly some kinks to be worked out. No one quite knows how to handle the situation in Illinois, with Blogojevich-appointee Roland Burris appearing set on claiming the President-elect's vacated seat. Meanwhile in New York, the brewing controversy over the possible ascension of Caroline Kennedy is playing out (pending Hillary Clinton's approval as Secretary of State). There is a lot to be determined, and Franken is only part of the picture.