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UPDATE: Dayton to name Franken replacement for Senate on Wednesday

Sen. Al Franken. File photo / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans will learn Wednesday who their next senator will be.

At a 10 a.m. news conference at the Capitol, Gov. Mark Dayton will announce his choice to replace U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Franken announced last week that he intends to resign amid allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior from several women.

It’s widely speculated that Dayton will pick Lt. Gov. Tina Smith — a stalwart ally of his with a career of working behind the scenes, but never in the glare of a spotlight such as that which shines on a U.S. senator.

Dayton has the sole authority to appoint a replacement who will serve until 2019. Minnesotans will have their say during the November 2018 general election, which will now include both U.S. Senate seats.

Since Franken hasn’t actually resigned, Wednesday’s announcement will be just that: an announcement, not a swearing-in with pomp.

Dayton will no doubt say why he’s picking his designee. And that person is expected to be on hand as well, perhaps with prepared remarks and most likely ready to answer questions from the media.

It’s safe to assume that Dayton, a Democrat, will appoint a like-minded Democrat, so don’t expect any major pivots on policy issues.

Still, there are questions that need to be answered. Here are a few:

CARETAKER OR CANDIDATE?

Does the new senator plan to merely hold the seat as a caretaker, as some Democratic strategists are hoping, or does she plan to run in the 2018 election, as other Democrats are hoping?

This is a political question. A caretaker path would appease some local Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party activists who want to respect the DFL nominating process, opening the field to numerous candidates for vetting. On the other hand, an appointee who wishes to run in 2018 would have the advantage of incumbency — a tactic strongly urged by some national Democratic strategists.

LT. GOVERNOR SUCCESSION?

If it is indeed Smith, who will become lieutenant governor? According to the Minnesota Constitution and state law, the president of the state Senate would ascend to the post. This could get awkward, since Republicans currently control the Senate and the president is state Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville.

Adding to the intrigue: the Senate currently tilts Republican by one vote, 34-33. A Fishbach vacancy would make it an even split — except that Sen. Dan Schoen’s resignation (also amid allegations of sexual misconduct) takes effect Friday.

CONSTITUENT SERVICES?

How will the continuity of the Senate office be ensured?

This is more than a mere bureaucratic question. Constituents — regular Minnesotans with federal concerns ranging from citizenship to Social Security problems — rely on our two senators to shepherd their concerns when other options fail. These sorts of transitions happen whenever a senator leaves office, but usually there’s a lot more lead time.

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