Credit: Architect of the Capitol(ST. PAUL, Minn.) — Minnesota Senator Al Franken announced Thursday that he would resign from the Senate in the coming weeks, during a speech on the Senate floor.
“This decision is not about me, it’s about the people of Minnesota,” Franken said. “It has become clear that I can’t both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them.”
A number of women have accused Franken of unwanted touching. Franken denied some of the incidents and some he said he remembers “very differently.”
On Wednesday, a majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was time for him to step aside.
His decision to leave Congress will prompt a special election in Minnesota next November. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, will appoint an interim senator in the meantime.
Following Franken’s announcement Thursday, Gov. Dayton said he has not yet decided who he will appoint to fill the upcoming vacancy, but expects to make his decision known in the “next couple of days.”
Democratic strategists both in Washington, D.C., and Minnesota told ABC News they expect Dayton will chose a woman.
“I think it would be a great opportunity for us,” Alex Boutrous, President of Minnesota’s Young Democrats, told ABC News. “Especially in light of having a male senator who is stepping down because of sexual harassment allegations, to have a woman replace him would make a statement that not only do we believe women, but we believe in their leadership and we want to empower them to take this role on.”
When Minnesota’s senior senator Amy Klobuchar was elected in 2006, she was the first woman elected to the Senate from the state.
Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor Tina Flint Smith, is likely at the top of Dayton’s list, several sources have said. Smith was Dayton’s chief of staff before she was his running mate.
However, an interesting wrinkle in local law, wherein the Minnesota senate president becomes lieutenant governor should the lieutenant governor leave could make Smith a less likely candidate. The current senate president is a Republican.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a longtime member of the congressional delegation who represents part of the city of St. Paul, could be at the top of the list.
Other experts have suggested, though, that Dayton may want to send more a progressive message and may perhaps chose an up-and-comer such as state representative Ilhan Omar.
Elected last year, Omar is the highest-ranking Somali-American elected to office in the country, and she would likely be the first Muslim to serve in the United States Senate. She was featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah last year and said, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare.” Her appointment could be seen as sending a message from the state.
Another possibility is U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, who is the first Muslim to have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. An African-American who has close to ties to progressive, grassroots activists and a leadership role in the Democratic National Committee. Though not a woman, Ellison is also likely on the short-list.
Other names that Minnesota political experts have floated include: Lori Swanson, the state’s attorney general since 2006; Rebecca Otto, the state’s auditor who is also running for governor, but not seen as front-runner; Erin Murphy, a long-time state lawmaker who is also running for governor, and Congressman Tim Waltz.
Waltz is more of a moderate and one of many Democrats jockeying for the party’s nomination for governor next year. He is largely considered the favorite in that race to replace Dayton, so people familiar with the state’s politics think he would be less likely to accept the Senate seat.
His running mate Peggy Flanagan, however, could be an interesting choice. A young, Native American woman and political activist, Flanagan spoke last year at the Democratic National Convention.
“I would love to see [Flanagan] taking on a bigger leadership role in our state, whether that is as a Senator or a lieutenant governor,” Boutrous said,”but I think since we have so many great women, I think pulling from women that are not currently on a ticket [in the state] is what I would [propose.]”
“Thinking about how many incredible women of color and indigenous women we have in elected leadership in Minnesota, I think it is great opportunity to take that one step farther and appoint and hopefully a woman of color or an indigenous woman to the Senate for Minnesota,” she added.
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