Tribune Editorial: Minnesota politics just got more interesting for 2018

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A Tribune Editorial It is the Christmas holiday season of 2017, but in Minnesota, the 2018 political season is already starting. As the sexual misconduct complaints arose against Sen. Al Franken earlier in November and continued, the calls for his resignation in early December exploded. On Dec. 7, the senator announced he intends to resign in the coming weeks. That set off a set of political announcements which may only end up in the Minnesota Supreme Court for a ruling. Gov. Mark Dayton was charged with nominating someone to fill the Franken’s seat through the next election in 2018 and then an election will be held to fill the remainder of Franken’s term through 2020. The governor took several days to consider his options and consulting his advisors in Minnesota as well as Washington. On Wednesday, the governor appointed his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as the next U.S. senator from Minnesota. “There is no one I trust more,” Dayton said. Both are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. A New Mexico native, Smith has worked as a General Mills marketing manager, run her own marketing business, served as a vice-president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas, served as campaign manager of Walter Mondale’s 2002 senate run and served as chief of staff for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Gov. Mark Dayton. Smith’s appointment drew similar praise from other DFLers across the state. Sen. Amy Klobuchar who said Smith was experienced and could hit the ground running. Rep. Collin Peterson commended her experience and said Smith was also a good shot when pheasant hunting. Republicans, in turn, criticized Smith’s record as a Planned Parenthood leader and lack of support for the unborn. By late Wednesday, Jennifer Carnahan, Minnesota Republican Chair, criticized Smith’s appointment as an “underhanded ‘House of Cards’-style move” intended to “throw the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate out of balance.” Once Smith resigns as lieutenant governor, her position will be filled by the president of the state Senate, currently Sen. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville. That would create a unique DFL-Republican leadership team. Many assumed Fischbach would resign her Senate seat and Dayton would then call a special election to elect a Fischbach replacement. District 13, which lies in Stearns and Benton counties, is a Republican-leaning district. By Thursday, Fischbach contended that she - as a Republican - would not be part of Dayton’s inner circle. Thus, she believes she would have time to continue with her state Senate duties and does not plan to resign her state Senate seat. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Thursday that Fischbach is required to resign. Democrats point to the Minnesota Constitution passage: “No senator or representative shall hold any other office under the authority of the United States or the state of Minnesota, except that of postmaster or of notary public.” Dayton said Thursday he had asked the Minnesota Attorney General’s office to render an opinion. Fischbach said she did not intend to heed the attorney general’s opinion. Minnesotans can expect this question will soon end up in the Minnesota Supreme Court. All this political drama is serving as a prelude to 2018 when there is no incumbent for the Minnesota governor seat, there will be a race for Franken’s U.S. Senate seat and DFLer Klobuchar will be running for re-election as the other U.S. Senator from Minnesota. And the Minnesota Legislature will hold its 2018 session beginning in February. With Alabama’s new Senator-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, narrowing the Republican Senate majority in Congress to 51-49, every U.S. senate race in 2018 will be heavily contested seeking to maintain or obtain a Senate majority. With two U.S. Senate races and all eight House races next year, Minnesota will become the focus of the national political-industrial campaign complex. Combine that with the statewide races for governor, attorney general, etc., plus every state House seat up for election, Minnesota’s political season will be hotter than ever. Throw in a possible anti-Trump backlash that has already shown up in recent elections in Virginia and Alabama impacting Republican candidates, Minnesotans can expect a real political donnybrook in 2018. However, it’s likely that only political junkies and television ad sellers will be looking forward to the 2018 political year. This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune’s Editorial Board of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.