As many pundits predicted, Gov. Mark Dayton has named Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace Sen. Al Franken when he resigns from the Senate in the next couple of weeks. Smith had a long history of working for various elected officials, including Gov. Dayton before he asked her to be his running mate in the last election. As lieutenant governor she has served as an active integral part of Dayton’s administration
Smith is knowledgeable and competent, and should do well in the Senate. She plans to keep the position, running for the chance to fill out the last two years of Franken’s term in 2018.
The appointment will send the State Capitol into a bit of turmoil, however. According to the state constitution, a vacancy in the lieutentant governor’s office must be filled by the president of the Minnesota Senate, who in this case is Sen. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican. Fischbach said she will assume the job of lieutenant governor, but that she plans to keep her senate position as well. She could probably do both jobs, considering that the LG has no officials duties outside of what the governor assigns, and we doubt Dayton will be as reliant on Fischbach as he was on Smith. But plent of others in the Capitol, especially Democrats, think she shouldn’t be able to hold both jobs.
A cynic might say Dayton made this appointment in part to whittle away at the slim Republican majority in the state senate. Republicans have a 34-33 margin now, and Republican Sen. Dan Schoen is resigning over his sexual harassment scandal. There will be a special election to fill his spot. If Fischbach is required to vacate her senate seat, that will be another special election, and the chance that Democrats could win both and gain control of the chamber.
Another possibility is to call a one-day special session to elect a Democrat as the new Senate president, who would then move into the LG position. The Republicans could then re-elect Fischbach as president of the senate.
We suppose it beats playing musical chairs for the lieutenant governor’s job, but not by much.