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Al Franken and his wife, Franni, outside their Minneapolis home Tuesday following the 5-0 decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court declaring him the winner.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

At last, a second senator for Minnesota

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE
  • Star Tribune
  • July 1, 2009 - 10:03 AM

Al Franken, a satirist known for his biting political humor, is headed to the U.S. Senate, the survivor of an epic legal struggle that opponent Norm Coleman finally conceded he couldn't win.

Franken's triumph followed a 5-0 decision Tuesday by the Minnesota Supreme Court declaring him the winner and a quick concession by Coleman. Franken, a Democrat, could be sworn into office soon after the July 4th holiday.

"I don't know if it has really sunk in," said Franken, appearing at his home in Minneapolis shortly after receiving a congratulatory call from Coleman, a Republican. "He said it was a very hard-fought campaign. I said, 'Norm, it couldn't have been closer.'

"It was a nice way to end this."

Franken's arrival in the Senate could give Democrats a 60th vote on many issues, a filibuster-proof majority that could help advance President Obama's agenda.

Conceding defeat outside his St. Paul home shortly after the court ruling, Coleman sidestepped questions about whether he would turn his attention to running for governor in 2010. "We'll talk about the future in short order," he said.

The ruling and concession ended a bitter eight-month fight over the 2008 election, its recount and a trial that lasted seven weeks. The two candidates and their allies spent over $50 million on their campaigns, the recount and the trial.

Some Minnesotans were relieved to see it all come to an end.

"It's definitely about time," said Craig Harris of Minneapolis, strolling on the Nicollet Mall Tuesday afternoon. "We've had a missing voice [in the Senate] for several months, and that can't be a good thing."

In recent months, Coleman had left open the possibility of appealing a state court decision against him to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Minnesota's highest court gave him little grounds for hope.

Standing by lower court

It rejected point by point Coleman's claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and rulings by a lower court during the trial prevented perhaps thousands of valid absentee ballots from being counted. The lower court ruled in April that Franken had won by 312 votes.

In upholding that ruling, the Supreme Court said Coleman had "not shown that the trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion."

The Supreme Court concluded that "Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under [Minnesota law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota."

At the heart of Coleman's appeal was his insistence that the varying treatment of absentee ballots violated voter rights to equal protection under the Constitution.

But the justices said voter rights weren't violated because local officials merely applied state election law differently for the convenience of their residents. There has to be evidence of an intent to discriminate, they wrote.

"Coleman neither claims nor produced any evidence that the differing treatment of absentee ballots among jurisdictions during the election was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination against individuals or classes," the court said.

"No claim of fraud in the election or during the recount was made by either party," the high court wrote.

It added that the trial court -- a three-judge panel -- didn't discriminate when it excluded certain types of absentee ballots from being counted. Coleman had claimed that the trial court should have been more lenient, accepting flawed ballots cast by some voters because local officials had done so on Election Day.

"But the law ... requires strict adherence," the Supreme Court wrote, adding that Coleman hadn't proven that local elections officials had been more lenient.

The Supreme Court also rejected Coleman's comparison of the Senate election to vote problems in Florida during the 2000 presidential race. Florida had no standards for determining voter intent on ambiguous ballots, but in Minnesota, "There were clear statutory standards for acceptance or rejection of absentee ballots," the justices wrote.

The high court gave short shrift to Coleman's argument that he should have been allowed to inspect ballots in some Minneapolis precincts to see whether there was any double counting. Justices also dismissed his complaint about 132 missing ballots elsewhere in Minneapolis, saying he "introduced no evidence of foul play or misconduct" and that the ballots were represented in machine totals on Election Day.

Two of the seven justices assigned to the state Supreme Court -- Eric Magnuson and G. Barry Anderson -- did not take part in the decision because they had sat on the state Canvassing Board that oversaw the recount.

Reaction and speculation

In the weeks before the decision there was uncertainty about whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, would certify a Franken state court victory if Coleman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Coleman's concession rendered Pawlenty's role anticlimactic, and he signed the election certificate at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The White House issued a statement from President Obama that read, "I look forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs" and promoting renewable energy.

The state Republican Party issued a statement after Coleman's concession, saying, "Norm's commitment to Minnesota will never waver. He is a good man who has fought the good fight."

Since Pawlenty announced he would not run for another term, Coleman's future in politics has been the subject of increased speculation. He didn't do much to discourage that speculation Tuesday.

Asked when he would talk about his plans, he replied, "Soon. I presume sometime -- we'll get through July 4 -- sometime next week, I presume, I'll be talking a little bit about what the future is."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said the earliest Franken would be seated is next week because the Senate is out of session for the July 4th holiday.

Staff writers Mike Kaszuba, Pam Louwagie, Mark Brunswick and Alex Ebert contributed to this report. Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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