As Senator Al Franken prepares to leave office in the coming weeks, it’s widely expected that Governor Mark Dayton will tap Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to take his place.
Minnesota is one of 36 states that empowers governors to fill a senate vacancy, but Smith’s appointment will likely only be temporary. Leaving aside for now the many potential hazards that a top-down pick could present in the 2018 midterms elections (NPR has a good explainer here), let’s take a moment to learn about Smith, and the current climate in Minnesota politics in general!
According to the Star Tribune, Smith is a trusted Democratic insider who formerly served as Dayton’s chief of staff. She’s seen as a prudent choice for two reasons: 1) She’s a woman, which is beneficial for... obvious reasons. And 2) She’s considered a “caretaker pick,” meaning she’s most likely not interested in assuming the seat permanently.
Minnesota is historically a blue state with an active liberal base, and it stands to reason its constituents will want to choose who fills the seat for the two remaining years of Franken’s appointment—which they will, in a special election next November.
When that day comes, a number of potential contenders are on the docket: U.S. Representative Keith Ellison—who would be the state’s first black senator—as well as Representative Betty McCollum, Representative Rick Nolan, and State Representative Ilhan Omar, who would be the Senate’s first Somali-American member.
In the meantime, Minnesotans will likely have Smith, whose lack of future political ambitions will hopefully create an even pitch upon which future candidates can battle for the seat.
“[Smith] really gets Minnesota, she gets the players, she has great built-up relationships,” one Democratic operative with long experience in Minnesota told Politico. “She makes practical sense, and she would be a good bridge builder.”
That said, Dayton is also liable to change his mind and appoint someone more permanently. In either case, the announcement is expected to be made imminently. Stay tuned.