DFL bill would seat Franken for now

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2009 - 9:15 PM

DFLers have introduced a bill in the Minnesota Legislature seeking to have Al Franken seated in the U.S. Senate while Republican Norm Coleman challenges the recount that left him 225 votes behind in the race.

The bill, introduced Monday by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, would give provisional certification to the winner of the recount in a contested election. It is intended to go into effect immediately, removing a major legal impediment blocking Franken from getting an election certificate.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, has signaled that he is unlikely to sign the bill, which has the backing of House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and more than a dozen other DFLers. Brian McClung, a spokesman for the governor, called the bill "flawed," saying it would change Minnesota election law retroactively at a time when a the courtroom challenge of the recount continues.

Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich called it a "cheap public relations gimmick" intended to short-circuit the recount trial underway in St. Paul.

Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Franken, said their campaign did not know enough about the bill to comment on it directly. But, she added, "there are a number of issues important to Minnesota that the state Legislature should take a look at, and absolutely this is one of them."

Coleman, who led Franken after the Nov. 4 election, fell behind in the hand recount. But Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a DFLer, have refused to certify Franken the winner, saying that Minnesota law does not permit them to sign an election certificate while court challenges are in progress.

Franken is challenging that interpretation of state law before the Minnesota Supreme Court, which will hear his request Thursday to order a certificate be issued.

Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate, meanwhile, appear to have backed off from the idea of seating Franken without an election certificate, knowing they would face an almost certain Republican filibuster.

Coleman's term ended Jan. 3, and under a U.S. Senate-passed resolution, he must vacate his offices today.

The recount trial is expected to last several more weeks or more, and appeals are possible. While DFLers control the Minnesota House and Senate, where Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, has introduced companion legislation to Kahn's bill, it is far from certain they could get the bill to Pawlenty's desk before the recount contest is decided in court.

"I would hope the election contest is resolved before this bill gets through the Legislature," Sertich said.

Republicans argue that the DFL is trying to force Pawlenty to sign an election certificate, something that Franken has been trying to persuade the state's high court to do. "This legislation and Al Franken's lawsuit in front of the Supreme Court are written with the same crayon," said Minnesota GOP spokeswoman Gina Countryman.

Republicans also have raised questions about the bill's constitutionality. "You can't change the rules of the game after it's been played," McClung said.

But Kahn said she intends only to give Minnesotans a full complement of U.S. senators while the recount contest plays out in the courts. If the judges reverse the recount, she said, Coleman would still emerge the winner. 

"It relieves the pressure to go fast," she said. "So this can be done right, rather than fast."

Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2750

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