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GOP idea: Make Democrat lieutenant governor

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republican legislative leaders Friday, Dec. 22, renewed their offer to Democrats to avoid a legal fight stemming from a series of dominoes that will fall once U.S. Sen. Al Franken resigns.

Under the plan pitched by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would get to have a lieutenant governor from his own party — and the Republicans would get to preserve their slim majority in the Senate.

As it stands, when Franken resigns Jan. 2 and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith replaces him the next day, Senate President Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville, will automatically become lieutenant governor, creating an odd situation for Dayton and potentially putting the Senate majority in jeopardy.

Fischbach has said she plans to continue to hold her Senate seat, but on Thursday, the Minnesota attorney general's office issued an advisory opinion concluding that the state constitution does not allow her to hold both jobs. That's the legal battle brewing. If Fischbach pushes forward, a judge would likely have to settle the dispute.

Gazelka and Daudt's plan is for a special legislative session for the sole purpose of electing a Democrat as Senate president.

Dayton has already rebuffed the idea, but Gazelka and Daudt made the request more formal Friday, issuing a letter to Dayton and the Legislature's two top Democrats: House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

"It doesn't have to be that way," the letter reads, referring to the weirdness of a Democratic governor finding himself with a Republican lieutenant governor. "This common sense solution will honor the wishes of Minnesota voters who in 2014 elected a Democrat Governor and a Democrat Lt. Governor and avoid a costly and unnecessary legal fight."

Dayton has said he'd want Bakk and Hortman to agree to the plan, and neither has so far.

Bakk has said he believes Fischbach must resign once she becomes lieutenant governor, and once that happens, the Republicans will lose a presumed one-vote majority, and the Senate will be "up for grabs," he said.

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