Republican leaders in the Legislature are trying to hang on to their party’s majority amid the political musical chairs triggered by U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s impending resignation.
Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, is expected to ascend to lieutenant governor when current Lt. Gov. Tina Smith takes Franken’s Senate seat. But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, have devised a plan that would ensure their hold on the state Senate’s GOP majority by sending a Democrat to be Gov. Mark Dayton’s second-in-command instead.
In a letter made public Friday, the pair of Republicans asked for a short special session on Jan. 3 to elect a DFL Senate president, who would then become lieutenant governor. That means Fischbach would be re-elected as Senate president, keeping the Senate’s slim Republican lead and avoiding a special election, which could threaten it.
“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,” Daudt and Gazelka’s letter read.
The vacant seat otherwise would prompt another special election on top of the one to replace DFL Sen. Dan Schoen on Feb. 12. These races have the potential to tip the scales, judging by special-election victories by Democrats around the nation in recent months. Republicans hold the state Senate by a tight 34-32 lead, with one seat vacant.
The pair of Republicans called for the session in a letter to Dayton, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
Dayton, at a news conference Thursday, said he’d be open to a special session like the one Gazelka and Daudt proposed — but only if DFL leaders in the Senate and House sign off on it, too.
Bakk had no comment Friday on Gazelka and Daudt’s letter. He is unlikely to agree to a special session, because if Fischbach ends up having to leave the Senate, it would create a possible path for DFLers to retake the Senate majority.
Dayton also said Thursday that he wouldn’t call for Fischbach’s replacement in a special election until she gives up her legislative seat.
Fischbach has said she hopes to keep both jobs — that of the lieutenant governor role and her Senate presidency.
The legality of the double duty is up for debate. Attorney General Lori Swanson said in an opinion Thursday that holding both seats is likely unconstitutional, and probably foreshadows a lawsuit.
Staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this story.