Franken hopes his run will sow the seeds of change

  • Article by: PRISCA OHITO
  • Updated: July 4, 2008 - 10:53 PM
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Minnesota DFL senate candidate Al Franken takes a break from his hectic schedule for a light game of catch in his office. Al will run against republican Norm Coleman for the seat.

Walking into the DFL Senate endorsee's campaign office, something strikes the eye. It isn't the basketball hoop that hangs inside. It is a portrait of Al Franken made of seeds, with an unsettling likeness. Composed of nine different seeds, from reed canary grass to rice, Franken smiles and stares back at the viewer.

It is yet another picture of Franken to add to current ones in public view -- famed comedian, best-selling author, and more recently: Senate hopeful, inadvertent tax evader and sometime purveyor of tasteless humor.

Franken's image matters as the public decides whether to vote for him over incumbent Norm Coleman, a Republican. Franken has been an outspoken Democratic partisan for some time. He is a challenger in a year when incumbents are unpopular. He's running against Washington when Washington isn't popular.

"Clearly, [he] gets Democrats excited," said Steven Schier, Carleton College professor of political science.

Franken could benefit significantly if Barack Obama's appeal to new voters carries over, said Steven Hatting, associate professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas. Hatting believes that "independent voters are going to be crucial" in the election. And if Minnesota voter turnout is in excess of 70 percent, as it was in 2004, it will be to Franken's advantage.

What are the key issues Franken and campaign will push? He has said he believes in universal health care, fully funding public schools and investing in local, renewable energy.

In an interview, Franken acknowledged that Coleman has experience on his side, yet he contends that although there are politicians "who serve very ably and get things done ... Norm Coleman isn't one of those."

This much we know: Alan Stuart Franken, 57, grew up in St. Louis Park and graduated from the Blake School and Harvard University. He made a name for himself as writer and actor for "Saturday Night Live."

Yet, recently, Franken has been in the headlines for writing humor that many find offensive to women.

He also has been criticized for failing to pay taxes in several states where he earned money from 2003 through 2006. He paid state income taxes only in the states where he lived -- New York and Minnesota. That meant he overpaid taxes in those two states, but shorted the other 17 states by more than $50,000. Franken has blamed his tax accountant and has pledged to pay those states now, plus interest and penalties, for a total of about $70,000. Then he'll file for a refund in Minnesota and New York.

During a recent interview at his campaign headquarters in St. Paul, Franken seemed tired, massaging his face with his hands. He said these incidents are not characteristic of his career or his character.

"I said that I'm sorry that these things ... gave the impression that I wasn't working for all Minnesotans. ... and especially sorry they don't reflect who I am," he said.

Franken believes that the DFL party will gain both liberal and conservative voters because they are disenchanted with Republicans and "understanding that conservatives [in power] are not working in their interest."

But will they vote for Franken?

He will have to convince voters of his true image, as they work to understand the candidate with as many parts as there are types of seeds in his portrait.

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