The challenge of appointing a senator

Gov. Mark Dayton has a tricky task ahead of him in the appointment of a senator to replace Al Franken. Franken announced he will resign from the Senate in the coming weeks as accusations of sexual harassment continued to hamper his effectiveness in office.

In picking his successor, Dayton has a few factors to consider and a little tip-toeing to do.

It is a given in this time when accusations of sexual harassment are having an unprecedented impact on society that the new senator will be a woman. And she will be a Democrat. And she should have strong credentials in government. There are several who qualify, and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is the name most often mentioned.

But there is also the question of the appointee’s political ambitions. Should Dayton appoint a “caretaker” senator, someone who will fill the position until people can pick their own senator in 2018? Or should he appoint someone who wants to keep the job for the long term?

Democrats in the Senate, who are very concerned with capturing control, would prefer to have someone long-term who will take the running head start and use it to their advantage in the 2018 election.

But Minnesotans have a history of resenting favoritism in political appointments. It all goes back to 1976, when then-Gov. Wendell Anderson had to appoint someone to replace Sen. Walter Mondale, who had just been elected vice president. Anderson, one of the most popular politicians in the history of the state, resigned as governor. Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich assumed the governorship and appointed Anderson to the Senate. In the next election the “Minnesota Massacre” swept Anderson and Perpich and the DFL majority in the Legislature out of office.

Dayton, who is in his last term, has little to lose, but his decision could have a big impact on his party’s future.