Sunday, January 4, 2009

senator al franken

Get used to saying it: Senator Al Franken.

Yesterday, the Minnesota Canvassing Board finished its recount with Franken leading by 225 votes (out of 2.9 million cast). They counted 993 absentee ballots that both the Franken and Coleman camps (as well as local elections boards) agreed had previously been improperly excluded. (This was due to things like failure to date the absentee ballot – despite the fact that nothing in Minnesota law requires that an absentee ballot be dated.) Franken won these ballots by an impressive 52% to 33% margin over Coleman, with the others going for the third-party candidate. (The big Franken margin on these absentee ballots was probably due to the push made by the Obama campaign and state Democrats to get their voters to vote early.) Prior to this weekend, Franken had led by 49 votes. The Canvassing Board meets tomorrow to certify the result.

Under Minnesota law the result is not final until all legal disputes are resolved, and Coleman has indicated he intends to challenge the result. I think it is highly unlikely that Coleman would prevail in any such challenge. The Minnesota Canvassing Board has spent two months meticulously dotting every i and crossing every t. That Canvassing Board includes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (a Republican appointee) and he is the one who would appoint the three-judge panel that would oversee any Coleman challenge. I doubt any such panel would be inclined to substitute its judgment for that of the Canvassing Board (which has made all of its decisions unanimously – this is not a partisan result). Moreover, as Franken’s lead has increased, it has made moot the irregularities that Coleman has alleged to date (as the number of ballots involved are less than Franken’s victory margin). At this point, it is hard to imagine even what the basis for Coleman’s challenge would be.

Also, the Minnesota Supreme Court is still considering a request by the Coleman camp to alter the recount process and reconsider 654 absentee ballots that local elections boards had deemed properly rejected. Although those ballots come from areas that tended to vote more heavily for Coleman, it is unlikely even if they are counted that Coleman could win them by a large enough margin to overcome Franken’s lead (by my calculations, Coleman would have to win 68% of those ballots to overtake Franken). Moreover, Coleman’s legal arguments have been all over the place as the results of the recount have shifted. He originally (when he held the lead) opposed counting any of the reject absentee ballots, even those that the local elections boards agreed had been improperly rejected. An earlier ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court brought the improperly rejected ballots back in, but only to the extent all parties agreed they should be included. The Franken camp, to its credit, has been absolutely consistent in all its legal arguments throughout the recount, even after they claimed the lead.

Recall that on election night, when Norm Coleman had a lead of 215 votes – less than Franken’s 225 vote lead after the recount –
he said, “I recognize that because of my margin of victory, Mr. Franken has the right to pursue an official review of the election results. It is up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct.” If he were trailing, Coleman said, "I would step back. I just think the need for a healing process is so important [and] the possibility that any change magnitude is so remote." Want to bet Coleman doesn’t “step back”?

It’s hard to see why Coleman would want to spend additional legal fees on a court challenge that is almost certain to fail. But it is easy to understand the motivation of the Republican party to undertake such a challenge: To deny Franken the seat for as long as possible – months, if they can – to make it harder for Obama to pass his legislative agenda. (Remember when Bush was appointed president in 2000 and Democrats controlled the Senate? Back in those days, it seems only 51 votes were required to pass legislation. Now, apparently, everything requires 60 votes. That is because, with Republicans in the minority, the filibuster, which used to be employed sparingly for only those issues of high principle, has now become routine.) With Franken’s election and assuming Obama’s replacement in Illinois is a Democrat, Democrats would have 59 votes in the Senate, requiring only one Republican to cross over in order to break a filibuster, assuming everyone votes on a straight party-line basis (which is not necessarily the case with filibusters). On Friday, Sen. Cornyn (R-Texas), the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters that Republicans would block the seating of Franken – even provisionally – until Coleman’s legal challenges are exhausted.

Of course, there is that matter of Obama’s replacement in Illinois. I agree with the Democratic leadership that the replacement named by Blagojevich should not be seated. Even if the guy he named, Roland Burris, isn’t corrupt, the process was corrupt. If the evidence on the record is believed, leading candidates were excluded from the process because they wouldn’t pay off Blagojevich. At least one person Blagojevich asked to take the post refused because of the pending corruption charges. There is no way a corrupt process can produce an untainted appointment. (Burris ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1984, he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994, 1998 and 2002 and he ran unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor in 1995. He is a bit of an egomaniac, having named his son Roland and his daughter Rolanda. He has said he would not serve as merely a caretaker in the Senate seat but would run for election in 2010. This is not a guy who would have secured the appointment through an untainted process.) The Illinois Secretary of State has refusing to certify the Burris appointment but that will almost certainly – eventually – be reversed by court order. Senate Democrats can buy time by referring the matter to a committee until the Illinois legislature has time to impeach Blagojevich. The impeachment could take place as soon as next week, but his conviction and removal from office could take weeks. In the meantime, Democrats will be short that seat, making Obama’s job harder than it should be.

But it is only a matter of time. There is now no doubt that the next Senator from Minnesota will be Al Franken.

In the meantime, I have added “Stuart Saves His Family” to the top of my Netflix list.
(I saw it when it came out in 1995. As I recall, it was pretty good as dumb comedies go.)

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