Franken’s Replacement is Former Planned Parenthood VP

‘It’s clear what Tina Smith fights for: no-limits abortion…’

Tina Smith Minnesota photo

Tina Smith/Photo by Lorie Shaull (CC)

(Minneapolis Star-Tribune) Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate, where she’ll replace Sen. Al Franken following his planned resignation after a sexual harassment scandal.

“First and foremost, I want to appoint the person who I believe will best represent the people of Minnesota in the United States Senate,” Dayton said at a Capitol news conference, with Smith standing at his side. He said Smith “will be a senator of whom all Minnesotans can be proud.”

Smith accepted the appointment, thanking Dayton and calling it a “great honor.”

“Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward,” Smith said.


Smith also said she would run in the special election in November 2018, as a candidate to serve the final two years of Franken’s current term.

“I will run in that election and I will do my best to earn Minnesota’s support and I believe I can do that by being the best senator I can be,” Smith said.

In selecting Smith, the governor is choosing one of his most trusted advisers and someone who has worked for years traveling the state and building relationships with influential DFLers and business leaders.


The pick sets in motion an election cycle that could dramatically alter the state’s political landscape.

For the first time in a generation, Minnesota voters will select a new governor and two U.S. senators, high-stakes races in 2018 that are expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

The selection also means Minnesota will have two female U.S. senators for the first time in history.

Smith, 59, will have no time to bask. She must build a staff and adjust to the roiling waters of Washington and its polarized politics, where Democrats are trying to push back against President Donald Trump and GOP majorities in both houses.

Republicans wasted no time going on the attack.

The Minnesota Republican Party referred to Dayton’s choice of Smith as an “underhanded ‘House of Cards’-style move, while the Republican National Committee said Smith has an “inclination for political ladder climbing and raising taxes on Minnesotans throughout her cushy insider career.”

“As a key player in the Dayton administration, Smith has tried to raise the gas tax and increase sales taxes on Twin Cities families,” said John Rouleau, executive director of the GOP-aligned Minnesota Jobs Coalition.

National and Minnesota anti-abortion forces will take particular interest in Smith, who a decade ago was vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

“It’s clear what Tina Smith fights for: no-limits abortion, subsidized by taxpayers,” Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said during her 2014 run for lieutenant governor.

A number of Republicans are mulling a 2018 run, with party operatives and fundraisers most hopeful about former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is the last Republican to win a statewide race.

Smith said she is ready for the barrage of attacks: “I shouldn’t be underestimated, and if I weren’t confident, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Her remarks Wednesday had the makings of a 2018 stump speech, in which the New Mexico native said she would be a “fierce advocate for economic opportunity and fairness.”

She talked about Minnesota’s strengths while nodding to its problems: “Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but I have heard stories from families who work two full time jobs and still can’t find a good place to live.”

Jeff Blodgett, a longtime DFL operative instrumental in the elections of Franken and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, said he was “excited about the choice” as someone who can carry the progressive baton.

Smith’s commitment to running in 2018 may have helped the DFL clear the field of potential contenders. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minneapolis progressive who could have mounted a serious challenge to Smith from the left, said Wednesday that he would take a pass on a Senate run.

Not having to compete in time-consuming and expensive DFL convention and primary campaigns would allow Smith to set her sights on the November election.

While she focuses on the 2018 campaign, Smith also enters a changing Senate landscape.

Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama gives his party 49 votes to Republicans’ 51, turning every big vote in 2018 into a nail biter for the GOP. Franken still has not set a departure date, so it is unclear whether he or Smith will be the one voting against the contentious Republican tax bill.

“She’s in for a wild three years, assuming she wins” in 2018, said Jennifer Duffy, who studies the Senate for the Cook Political Report. “She’s got a pretty big hill to climb.”

In those three years, Smith, who has never served in a legislative body before, will have to learn the arcane rules of the Senate, carry out her legislative duties and mount an expensive campaign to win the seat to which she was appointed. Then, she has to turn around and immediately shift into campaign mode if she wants to win a full, six-year term in 2020.

Smith’s history of high stakes jobs in business, politics and government have prepared her for the grueling years ahead.

In recent years, she has become nearly as much the face of the administration as Dayton himself and has transformed the often obscure role of lieutenant governor. She is in the room when Dayton makes his biggest decisions, and was at the negotiating table — sometimes sitting in for the governor himself — during the high-stakes legislative talks.

With Smith’s elevation, a Republican state senator is in line to become Minnesota’s new lieutenant governor — a strange set of political circumstances for Dayton’s last term in office.

GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach is the current Senate president — which under the state constitution is next in line of the lieutenant governor resigns.

That in turn could trigger a state Senate opening with the potential to upset the GOP’s slim majority in that chamber.

For a time, Smith’s growing profile at the Capitol had led to speculation that she would run for governor herself. She decided not to join the field and focus on closing out the final year of Dayton’s term.

Republished with permission from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune via iCopyright license.