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Franken says he hopes to help create jobs

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., discusses a variety of issues Wednesday during a stop at the Tribune offices. Franken spent time in Willmar and Morris discussing renewable energy projects. He said the economic stimulus legislation passed in 2009 helped put many people in construction and building trades to work and believes a federal investment in renewable energy could do the same. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Asked what advice he would give to job hunters who have been out of work for a long time, U.S. Sen. Al Franken admitted that some of his suggestions might be "cold comfort."

But he hopes the state and country will see more jobs developed in the near future.

Franken was wrapping up a tour of renewable energy projects in Morris and Willmar when he stopped in the Tribune offices on Wednesday.

"My job, and that's why I'm here, is to take what I learn here to the Energy Committee and create jobs," Franken said.

The economic stimulus legislation passed in 2009 helped put many people in construction and building trades to work, he said, and he believes a federal investment in renewable energy could do the same.

In the meantime, Franken said he would recommend first that people seek training in an area where there are jobs, if that's possible.

"Secondly, and this is cold comfort to many people who've been looking, looking, looking and can't find anything, just get your foot in somewhere, even if it isn't what you want," he said.

Franken said he would like to see another federal stimulus bill to help the jobs situation.

Since the first of the year, some of the focus in Washington has shifted from creating jobs to reducing the nation's budget deficit.

"I think there's just competing theories," Franken said. "We know we have a serious deficit problem."

But the parties have different ideas of how to deal with it, he said, with some believing that government should not play a role in creating jobs and some believing that it should.

A case in point is the economic stimulus legislation passed in 2009. Many Republican candidates said last fall that the stimulus did not create jobs, but Franken strongly disagrees. "I know it did."

As he has traveled the state and participated in roundtable discussions on a variety of issues, he said, "I get thanked all the time, and I know that not everyone in the state who thanked me was a DFL'er.

"And not only are they thanking me, they're asking for more."

Addressing the deficit is important, and Democrats know that, Franken said. "At the same time, I think people really liked the president's message at the State of the Union, which was, when push comes to shove, we really have to think about the future."

Franken also spoke briefly about his transition from comedian, satirist and writer to senator. He was a writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live" and has written books and movies.

"They are really different jobs," he said. "There's much less pressure to be funny when you're a senator. ... Actually, there's a lot of pressure not to be funny."

Franken said he always did political satire and was always interested in politics. Later he wrote about politics and had a radio show.

"To me, this made sense" when he decided to run for office, he said. He acknowledged that it hadn't made sense to some others at the time.

For Minnesotans, "I hope they're seeing what I'm doing is serious and that I have the interests of our state and the people of our state in mind all the time," he said. "That's my job, and I take my job incredibly seriously."

He added, laughing, "That doesn't mean I don't think of things I can't say, all the time."

During the recount after the 2008 election, Franken said, he used the time to choose a staff and to talk to others in Washington about what type of senator he would be.

He also sought advice from Hillary Clinton's Senate chief of staff. Clinton also dealt with previous celebrity when she joined the Senate in 2001.

The advice he received was to be prepared and to come to hearings early and stay late. Most of all, he said, he was told "don't get in front of the camera."

He's done his best to follow that advice, he said. He doesn't do national press interviews, though he has been invited. "They finally just stopped asking."

Franken said he hoped to send a message to Minnesotans that he was not seeking publicity and that he planned to work hard for them.

Tribune staff member Jannet Walsh contributed to this article.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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