Moments after Al Franken stood on the U.S. Senate floor and announced his resignation Thursday, a red-eyed staffer answered the senator’s locked St. Paul office door.
She had nothing to say.
But as others across Minnesota digested the stunning news that their home state senator had resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, reactions flowed, many of them somber and raw. What was clear to most was this: Franken had no choice but to step down.
For some, it was time to draw a line showing that no sexual misconduct will be tolerated. For others grieving the loss of an influential liberal voice, it was a moment of realization that Franken could no longer be an effective senator while fending off a multitude of allegations.
From coffee shops to lunch counters, most people agreed that Franken’s resignation was a startling reminder that a cultural shift is taking place, toward zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.
“I think it’s good that people are speaking out and women are being believed,” said Franken supporter Karen Hasse of Chanhassen. “But where is this going to take us? What man hasn’t done something inappropriate? Maybe we’ll end up with an all-female Senate.”
Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, a DFLer, said he was stunned by Franken’s sudden downfall. “Even though I have a big mouth and frequently offer opinions, I really like to get the facts before I make a judgment,” he said. “So part of me is offended by the precipitousness and rapidity of this ‘Off with your head’ [movement.]”
Still, this is an extraordinary time in history for women, Latimer added. “You have to respect that,” he said. “But at the risk of sounding like another old, white male, not every act of misconduct is the same as every other act of misconduct. I don’t know how you measure unless you get the facts.”
As the number of allegations against Franken grew, an overwhelming number of senators and political leaders called for his resignation even before a Senate ethics investigation could be completed. Franken realized he could no longer be effective, Latimer said.
“So I guess he made the right decision,” he said.
Franken shouldn’t be the only one to take a fall, many said, pointing out that taxpayer money has been used to pay an unknown number of sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill.
“Those are all secret,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. “If we’re going to go down this road of consequences, then there have to be equal consequences against everyone, including the president.” She was referring to multiple sexual misconduct claims made against President Donald Trump.
Hausman said that of all the people commenting on Franken’s resignation, only he struck the right chord in his resignation speech. “It was personal and painful and respectful of this time,” she said. “This is a whole new world, so I have no advice.”
She does, however, worry about a possible backlash against women over the “dizzying amount of allegations” that tumble out each day against powerful men.
For now, some believe the push to hold men accountable is the right thing to do.
Standing in line to get lunch on Nicollet Mall, Sheldon Anderson of Eagan said he appreciated Franken’s work as a senator.
“But if we’re ever going to change inappropriate behavior of men, then we have to be all-in,” he said. “It’s hard to give one person a pass. … Change is the only way to go forward.”
In a main street coffee shop in Northfield, where Franken mentor Paul Wellstone lived and taught before becoming a U.S. senator, Dan Olsen said Franken did the right thing by resigning.
“It was significant for the Democrats to walk the talk,” he said. “I think that kind of puts Trump in the hot seat. I think Republicans’ [feet] should be held to the fire.”
Likewise, said Janice Dobies-Hein of Edina. She called Franken’s office Wednesday night and again on Thursday, urging him not to resign.
“It’s ridiculous that a man of his integrity who has done so much good now has to take the fall,” she said, adding that she’s angry at those who rushed to urge him to resign.
There are no winners in the situation, said former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who said he had no comment on whether Franken’s resignation was the right thing.
“I think it’s a sad day for everybody concerned,” he said. “It’s a hard day on everybody — for Minnesotans, the victims, for Al Franken.”