Dayton picks Lt. Gov. Smith for U.S. Senate
ST. PAUL — Mrs. Smith is going to Washington.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will replace U.S. Sen. Al Franken once he resigns after eight sexual misconduct allegations. Smith plans to run in the 2018 election to fill out the final two years of Franken's term.
Franken has not said just when he will step down. Last week, he said he would resign in "the coming weeks."
Gov. Mark Dayton made the announcement that he will appoint Smith on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
The announcement sets off a scramble for the November 2018 election and draws national attention to Minnesota as the U.S. Senate will have 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats after Democrat Doug Jones won an Alabama special election Tuesday.
Smith and Franken both are Democrats.
"Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward," Smith said.
She talked about the history of the Senate seat.
"This Senate seat has a strong, abiding legacy of service and social justice that runs back to Paul Wellstone, Walter Mondale, Gene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey," she said.
Dayton said he picked the most capable person for the job.
Franken's resignation means both Minnesota U.S. Senate seats will be on next year's ballot. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has attracted one Republican opponent so far, but she remains the odds-on favorite as most polls show her MInnesota's most popular politician.
Republicans see an opportunity to pick up the Franken seat in next year's election, given the fact that Smith is a relative unknown.
Among politicians being courted by many in the GOP is former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who although saying he is "politically retired" has sounded much like a candidate in a series of Minnesota speeches, on social media and on some national interview shows. Since leaving the governor's office when Dayton replaced him in 2011, Pawlenty has been a Washington lobbyist for the financial industry, but maintains his Minnesota home.
Pawlenty is far from the only Republican prospect, with state Sen. Karin Housley of St. Marys Point one who has said in public she is considering the run. A Republican or two now in the governor's race may switch to the Senate race, a fairly easy swing because they have campaigns in place.
On the Democratic side, it remains to be seen how many from the party will challenge Smith next year.
Smith, 59, took herself out of the governor's race early, with Dayton saying in recent months the he would have supported her had she run. He is not backing any governor candidate.
Many political observers said Smith likely stayed out of the governor's contest because she feared voters would assume her tenure would seem like a third Dayton term.
Smith was Dayton's chief of staff during his first four-year term, then became his running mate in the 2014 election, replacing first-term Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon.
Most lieutenant governors have been almost unseen, but Smith has traveled Minnesota, often making appearances governors normally make. In recent weeks, for instance, she has been the administration's top official in discussing the opioid abuse crisis.
Dayton has given Smith duties other than making appearances. She also has stepped in to negotiate end-of-legislative session deals with lawmakers. And she is chairwoman of the Destination Medical Center Project in Rochester.
Smith is a New Mexico native, now a Minneapolis resident, and received degrees from Stanford University and Dartmouth College. She and her husband, Archie, have two sons.
She moved to Minnesota in the 1980s for a General Mills marketing job.
Smith also has run her own marketing firm and worked for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. She was Minnesota Mayor R.T. Rybak's chief of staff before joining Dayton's office.
She was a leader of former Vice President Walter Mondale's 2002 U.S. Senate campaign when he replaced then-Sen. Paul Wellstone after he died in an airplane crash days before the election.
As Smith heads to the U.S. Senate, the state Senate may see changes. The state Constitution says that when the lieutenant governor position is vacated, the Senate president takes over.
If President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, replaces Smith, that could leave the Senate in a 33-33 tie (depending on how a Feb. 12 special election turns out).
Republicans could go to court to keep Fischbach in the Senate and there has been talk they could work out a deal with Democrats to replace Fischbach with a Democratic Senate president who would become lieutenant governor, and once that is done put Fischbach back in the Senate job.