Sources: Minnesota governor picks Smith to replace Franken

Mark Dayton
FILE- In this April 7, 2017, file photo, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens to a question from the media Friday, April 7, 2017, in St. Paul, Minn. Dayton was set to appoint a replacement Wednesday, Dec. 13, for Sen. Al Franken amid pressure to choose someone who could keep the seat in Democratic hands in a special election next November. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s governor has chosen Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill Sen. Al Franken’s seat until the November election, and she will run in that election to complete the final two years of Franken’s term, a Democratic operative told The Associated Press Wednesday.

The operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak ahead of the official announcement by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton scheduled for 10 a.m. A senior Democratic Senate aide in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, confirmed Smith was Dayton’s pick.

Smith responded to a text message from an AP reporter seeking comment Wednesday by simply thanking the reporter.

Minnesota Public Radio and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing Democratic officials they did not name, also reported Smith would be appointed.

Smith’s appointment was widely expected soon after Franken, under pressure over allegations of sexual misconduct, announced last week that he would step down. The appointment won’t change the balance of power in the Senate; both Franken and Smith are Democrats.

Smith served as Dayton’s trusted chief of staff for three years before ascending to become his No. 2, and was once considered a likely candidate to succeed him.

Smith announced last spring that she wouldn’t run for governor. But she will run in the November special election to complete Franken’s term through 2020. Dayton had come under intense pressure from top Democrats in Washington to appoint someone who wouldn’t merely serve as a seat-warmer.

It’s not clear when Smith will head to Washington.

Franken said last Thursday he would resign “in the coming weeks.” His office said Tuesday he had not yet set a final departure date. At least eight women have made allegations against him.

Smith, 59, served as Dayton’s trusted chief of staff for four years before ascending to become his No. 2 when he needed a running mate in 2014. Dayton has long treated her as an equal in the office, and it was that deference that fueled speculation she was being groomed to succeed him.

Smith’s path to politics was unconventional. A native of New Mexico, she graduated from Stanford and earned an MBA from Dartmouth. A marketing job with General Mills brought her to Minnesota, where she eventually started her own marketing and political consulting firm before gravitating to politics.

A soft-spoken, smiling presence at the state Capitol, Smith is credited with playing quiet but key roles in the response to the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis — when she was chief of staff to the city’s mayor — and in the building of a new Vikings stadium when she filled the same role for Dayton.

Dayton made her his point person on a massive public-private partnership to work with Mayo Clinic on an ambitious expansion in Rochester.

Next year’s race to fill the final two years of Franken’s term is certain to be one of the nation’s most closely watched and expensive. Republicans immediately floated former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a possible candidate, but many others were said to be weighing a race.

Smith may have competition from her own party as well, with several Democrats who had hoped to succeed Dayton likely to eye the Senate race as well. And her past work with Planned Parenthood in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, where she served as an executive, was sure to become a flash point with Republicans on the campaign trail.

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