Nick Coleman: Time to end charade in Senate race

  • Article by: NICK COLEMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2009 - 7:42 AM

If the court rules against Norm Coleman, then it's over. It's got to be.

After the 2008 Senate race ended in a virtual tie last November, I wrote that Minnesotans had tossed a coin that landed on its edge: Many voters, it still seems to me, voted against Norm Coleman or Al Franken, not for them.

That standing coin is finally about to fall with a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court that is expected any day. Most observers expect the court to reject Republican Coleman's objections to the arduous recount process that ended with the Democrat being declared the winner. I hope so, because this charade must end soon.

And the old Norm Coleman -- the late 2008 version -- would have agreed.

When I asked him, the morning after the election, if he would drop any election challenge if a mandatory recount showed him trailing Franken, he said yes, as long as a recount was "done the Minnesota Way." If by "Minnesota Way," he meant a recount done with excruciating diligence and total bipartisan participation, we have had the Minnesota Way in spades, a Minnesota Way that has taxed our patience and made us look at times like slow-witted fools but which has come to the end of the road: Norm is odd man out. And, in Minnesota, that means it's time for him to go away.

I am not one of those liberals who have a visceral dislike for Coleman (as I have averred before, we are not related). But unless the state high court drops a bombshell, the former Sen. Coleman will remain former. And talk of appealing the court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, or of Presidential Wannabe Tim Pawlenty refusing to sign an election certificate, is foolishness. What happens in St. Paul should stay in St. Paul.

I have known Norm since he was a maverick DFL mayor of St. Paul who had the backbone to chart his own course. The party never embraced him, and the motto at one DFL convention was "ABC --Anyone But Coleman" because he was "wrong" on some litmus issues, especially on the question of abortion rights. Today, there is room in the Democrats' tent for those who stray from orthodoxy. But there wasn't in the 1990s, and Norm changed horses, becoming a Republican and winning a second term as mayor before most voters even knew that a Republican had been sighted inside the city limits.

I was at Norm's "coming out" announcement in 1996, when he was anointed by the late GOP leader Jack Kemp and former Gov. Arne Carlson, who amusingly invited "all of Norm's neighbors" in Crocus Hill to come over to the Republican side. Fat chance. I started knocking on doors to see if there might be any GOP converts, and the first person I spoke to was a woman who had been baking cookies. Arne, I told her, wanted to know if she would turn Republican, too.

"I don't think so," she said. "We're radical lesbians in this house."

Coleman never won St. Paul again after that election. But he didn't just lose his adopted hometown. He seemed to lose his bearings. When he was elected narrowly to the Senate in 2002, in the aftermath of the Paul Wellstone plane crash, it was a double tragedy for the DFL Party: Their strongest voice, Wellstone, was dead. And Coleman, who might have been one of their leaders for years, won for the other side.

The independent streak that served him well as a DFLer deserted him after he became the most nervous Republican I have ever seen, a stalking horse for party power brokers and -- since last November -- for the scorched-earth tacticians of the GOP. The tacticians care little for Norm Coleman or his career but have used him to keep a Senate seat empty by financing the legal fight and fomenting the Hannity-Limbaugh crazy talk about missing ballots and improper counting and dead people voting for Democrats.

None of those things happened, as various panels and canvassing boards have decided time after time, with oversight from reputable Republicans at every stage. It is time for Norm and his supporters to let the aspersions and the windmill-tilting drop.

Keeping Norm's seat empty in Washington is not more important than Minnesota. If the court rules against Norm and he keeps his destructive fight going, he will only prove that one of our Senate seats has been emptier a lot longer than we thought.

It's been empty since the election of 2002.

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at

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