Although he's still in a race for his party's endorsement, DFL U.S. Sen. candidate Al Franken was running like a standard-bearer on Tuesday, using a campaign rally to tear at Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman while supporters in the State Capitol rotunda cheered him on.
Franken attacked Coleman for his support of President Bush, saying "George W. Bush and Norm Coleman have taken this country in the wrong direction, and they've taken all of us with them."
'Angry Al Franken'
Cullen Sheehan, Coleman's campaign manager, called Franken's rally an "attack-a-thon" that was "in the proud tradition of the Angry Al Franken that Minnesotans are beginning to learn more about."
Timed for the day before Coleman's formal announcement of his reelection bid, the rally also was designed to showcase Franken's growing support among DFL leaders, including House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, both of whom appeared at the Capitol rally.
Mayor Coleman got in his own shots at the senator whose name he shares and who once led St. Paul. "I have a little experience cleaning up after a guy named Norm Coleman," Chris Coleman said, turning to Franken. "You've got a big mess to clean up."
Franken has been tidying up a little mess of his own. Word came Tuesday that he has paid an additional $832 in penalties to New York state for failing to provide disability benefits for employees of his private corporation. Earlier, Franken was found to owe a $25,000 penalty for failing to provide workers' compensation to employees of Alan Franken Inc. for two years. On Tuesday, Minnesota Republican Party officials released documents showing Franken quietly paid the additional $832 in fines related to disability coverage earlier this month.
In an interview after Tuesday's speech, Franken said that he still has not received an explanation from his accountant on how the lapse occurred and that he's not sure that it had.
New York state entered a judgment for $25,000 against Franken in 2007 after it was unable to locate him to pay the penalty. Franken said that the checks issued on March 6 have brought him up to date and that a conference call is scheduled with his accountant "in the next week or two."
Franken said that he'd been "completely focused on the campaign," and that Tuesday's speech was intended to build on what he sees as a "new progressive majority" building across the state.In the speech Franken said he supported a higher minimum wage, expanded tuition credits for college students, bigger research and development tax credits, more expansive veterans benefits, a "new GI Bill" and withdrawal from Iraq.
Franken did not provide details on those proposals, either in the speech or afterward. The minimum wage should be "at least enough to keep up with inflation," he said. On the size of the other credits, he said, "I have no exact figure. We have seven months to come up with all these figures. I just want to make the tax code fairer, the way it was in the '90s, when we had tremendous economic growth."
Franken said he would roll back the tax cuts on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, although he acknowledged that he did not expect that amount to pay for all his proposals. Expanding health care and raising wages, he said, would produce savings in the form of higher productivity and decreased demand on social programs.
"It just seems silly to me to give the biggest tax cuts to those at the top," Franken said in the interview.
The other DFLers seeking the party's endorsement to run against Coleman are Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Darryl Stanton and Dick Franson.
Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288