Our family has this great tradition here in Minneapolis where we spend the Saturday night of Hanukkah with my father-in-law, Manly. Last night Manly and I were heading out to pick up (what else?) Chinese food and talking politics; namely, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s announcement that Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will take over U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s seat next month after Franken resigns. And both of us realized that it’s the first time in nearly 40 years that the Senate seat won’t be held by a Jew.
Here’s a look back:
In 1978, a local businessman, Republican Rudy Boschwitz, defeated Sen. Wendell Anderson, who had previously served as governor and was appointed to the Senate after then-Sen. Walter Mondale became vice president in 1976. Boschwitz won re-election in 1984.
In 1990, a largely unknown college professor named Paul Wellstone defeated Boschwitz, who had the unfortunate distinction of being the only incumbent senator to lose re-election during that particular cycle. Wellstone also would defeat Boschwitz in a 1996 rematch.
On Oct. 25, 2002, Wellstone was killed in a plane crash just 11 days before a hotly contested re-election campaign against former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. Mondale filled in as the Democratic nominee after Wellstone’s death and was defeated by Coleman.
In 2008, Coleman faced comedian Franken and, after initially claiming victory, lost by a few hundred votes after a recount. Coleman unsuccessfully challenged the results all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Franken, who was sworn in on July 7, 2009. Franken won re-election in 2014, and earlier this month he announced he will be resigning his seat following sexual misconduct allegations.
It’s worth noting that among the aforementioned men, only Franken grew up in Minnesota. But whether by birth or by choice, these men found a home in Minnesota, and built lives and political careers. As a Jew and a Minnesotan by choice myself, I took no small amount of pride that these men were fellow members of the tribe. This kinship transcended the differences in politics, style and temperament among the men.
Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always associated being Jewish with this notion of accomplishment. There’s a joke about an older Jewish lady running up and down a beach, trying to get someone to notice her. “Help, help!” she screams. “My son the doctor is drowning!”
But kidding aside, I, too, can get caught up in this way of thinking. I might not have agreed with all of the men who’ve held this Minnesota Senate seat during these past few decades. Yet in some way, I felt them to be my people and the Senate seat to be ours.
But, of course, it’s not. As corny as it may sound, the Senate seat belongs to the people of Minnesota, just as it always has — through political loss, death and scandal. And in a few weeks, Smith will hold it.
I’m not very familiar with Smith, but I know she’s been active in Democratic Party circles for several years and has a range of impressive experience. I hope she succeeds. But nothing lasts forever. Our son, a Jewish Republican, is only 13 but he has political ambitions. And might set his sights on the Senate seat.
Andy Jacobson, of Minneapolis, is a marketing executive.