The pending resignation of U.S. Senator Al Franken is creating more state constitutional intrigue in the Minnesota State Legislature.m Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s decision to fill the vacant seat with current Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith means the last elected presiding officer of the state Senate will become the new lieutenant governor. That person is Sen. Michelle Fischbach (GOP-Paynesville).
While Fischbach would like to keep her job as a state senator, she said she will accept the title of lieutenant governor as required under the state’s constitution.
Fischbach and Senate GOP leadership are arguing that she can serve in both capacities – lieutenant governor and state senator. Others would beg to differ. Legal memos supporting each side are in development. The arguments will revolve around the state’s constitution, statutory language, a court decision from the 19th century and arguments that there are no official duties assigned to the lieutenant governor.
It’s been an interesting year for the state’s supreme court having to weigh into state constitutional issues about the Governor’s ability to line-item veto the legislature’s operating budget. They could find themselves back in the middle of another debate about the division of duties between the executive and legislative branches of state government.
The intrigue and potential impact grows when you remember the current Senate GOP majority is the slimmest of margins, 34-33. Losing a member to the executive branch would mean current Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka would need to ensure victory in a special election in Senate District 13. While Senate District 13 is considered a strong GOP leaning district, republicans aren’t interested in taking chances after what they’ve seen happen in recent elections across the country.
The other x-factor is what will happen in the special election for Senate District 54 where DFL Senator Dan Schoen resigned amidst sexual misconduct allegations.
All of this creates a cloud of uncertainty about our political make-up as we head into a new year.
Be sure to save February 6 on your calendar as that evening is when precinct caucuses take place. The race for the two U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office, all state constitutional offices, 8 congressional seats and 134 state House seats launches that evening.