Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tapped For Senate

By John Celock

Minnesota’s governor has appointed his lieutenant governor as the state’s next United States senator.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) is his pick to succeed Sen. Al Franken (D) when Franken’s resignation becomes official. Franken announced last week that he would resign “in the coming weeks” after several allegations of sexual misconduct. Franken has not indicated an official date for his resignation.

“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability. There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office. I know that she will be a superb Senator, representing the best interests of our state and our citizens.”

Smith, one of Dayton’s most trusted advisors, indicated that she would run in next year’s special election for the remaining two years on Franken’s term. Smith had already said she did not plan on running to succeed the term limited Dayton in the governor’s mansion next year.

“I will run in that election, and I will do my best to earn Minnesotans’ support,” Smith said in prepared remarks. “I believe the way to do that is by being the best senator I can be.”

Smith comes to the Senate after a long career in Minnesota politics, including seven years in Dayton’s inner circle. She served as Dayton’s chief of staff during his first term, where she served as a chief operating officer for state government, along with overseeing a cancer initiative. She was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, after Dayton tapped her to replace retiring Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon (D) on his ticket.

Smith has been an atypical lieutenant governor for Minnesota, establishing herself as a powerful and high-profile deputy to Dayton. Many of Smith’s predecessors had largely been relegated to low profile duties and were not part of the governor’s inner circle. Prettner Solon did not seek a second term, citing a distant relationship with Dayton.

As lieutenant governor, Smith has frequently traveled the state and a fact sheet released by Dayton’s office said that she has worked on education, rural development, energy and opioid addiction policy while in office.

In accepting the Senate seat, Smith touched on her frequent travels.

“As lieutenant governor, I have travelled everywhere in Minnesota. Being elected lieutenant governor is like being invited into Minnesota’s living room,” she said. “I’ve talked to people in their homes, at their jobs, at city halls and their places of worship. We’ve talked about what worries them, what scares them and what gives them hope. I have learned a lot.”

Prior to serving in Dayton’s administration, Smith was chief of staff to the Minneapolis mayor, a top executive with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and worked in marketing for General Mills, one of the largest companies in Minnesota.

Smith’s appointment makes Minnesota the sixth state in history to be represented by two female senators – following California, Kansas, Maine, Washington and New Hampshire. Smith will serve alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D). Smith is the third woman to represent Minnesota in the Senate, following Klobuchar and former Sen. Muriel Humphrey (D), who served in 1978.

The last appointed senator from Minnesota was Sen. Dean Barkley (I), who was appointed to a two-month term in 2002 following the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D).

Smith could face a competitive field to hold on to her Senate seat next year. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D), announced Wednesday that he would not challenge Smith in the Democratic primary next year.

Smith’s departure for Washington elevates state Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R) to the lieutenant governor’s office for the remaining year of Smith’s term. Fischbach’s elevation is likely to set off a legal dispute with the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporting that Fischbach intends to hold on to her Senate seat while taking on the lieutenant governor’s office. Dayton’s team contends that Fischbach has to leave the Senate, a scenario which could end a Republican majority in the Senate. Dayton has also considered calling a special Senate session before Smith steps down to elect a Democrat to the Senate presidency, who could then take the lieutenant governor’s office.

Minnesota’s lieutenant governor’s official duties include taking over if the governor leaves office early, chairing the Capital Area Architectural Planning Board and serving on the state executive council. Most lieutenant governors are delegated duties by the governor.

Fischbach’s contention would put her in line with Pennsylvania precedent, which has allowed Senate presidents who succeed to the lieutenant governor’s office to hold on to their Senate duties while taking on the lieutenant governor’s role. Electing a new Senate president to become lieutenant governor has national precedent, with the procedure used to a fill a vacancy in the South Carolina lieutenant governor’s office in 2014.

Dayton’s appointment makes him the first former U.S. senator to appoint a senator since former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) appointed Democrat Bob Menendez to succeed him in the U.S. Senate in 2006. Smith is the first appointed senator since outgoing U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) was appointed by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) earlier this year. Strange was defeated in the Republican primary to hold on to his seat.

The three appointed senators before Strange – Montana Democrat John Walsh, New Jersey Republican Jeff Chiesa and Massachusetts Democrat Mo Cowan – did not seek election to continue in the Senate. In 2014, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) won election to hold on to Senate seats they were appointed to.