Al Franken


At last, Minnesota’s long statewide nightmare is over.

Norm Coleman finally conceded his former U.S. Senate seat to Al Franken, who, as it turned out, won the seat by a mere 312 votes in the November 2008 election, 239 days ago. An entire NBA season was played between the election and its conclusion. (Actually, the NBA season started a week before the election, but you get my point — Minnesotans surely are relieved to hear they finally will have dual representation in the U.S. Senate again after an eight-month election recount battle.)

Coleman decided to throw in the towel  following the Minnesota Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of Franken. This likely isn’t the last we’ve heard of Coleman, though; many political analysts expect him to run for the Minnesota governorship again. (He previously lost that race to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, giving Coleman the distinction of losing political races to a former pro wrestler and a former comedian.)

The biggest significance of Franken’s victory is the Democrats now have a 60-seat supermajority capable of preventing Republican filibusters in the Senate — sort of. The Democrats actually have only 59 U.S. senators (Joe Lieberman is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and two of them (Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy) are in poor health. Some other Democratic senators (members of the Moderate Dems Working Group come to mind) certainly are not rubber-stamp votes for all Democratic bills. Nonetheless, the Republicans still have only 40 senators, so the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t pass the kinds of legislation they promised voters.

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle

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Newspapers and magazines aren’t the only ones who must adapt or die these days. Politicians sometimes find themselves in a similar situation, as did U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced today he is defecting from the Republican Party to the Democratic side of the political aisle.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and father to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter, 79, said during a press conference.

There is truth in what Specter said, as he was a moderate member of the Republican caucus. He was one of only three Republican senators to vote in favor of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. But make no mistake, he switched political parties because there was a real chance he would lose the upcoming Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat. Now he will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“The bottom line is the Republican Party has become inhospitable to moderates,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN. “It was just very uncomfortable for Arlen Specter. He was being challenged on the right. When he did what he thought was principled, he was scorned by the overwhelming base of his party.”

As has been shown time and again since Barack Obama won the presidency last November, no one has been a bigger Republican base rallier than talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He said this about the Specter defection: “A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you.”

Way to prove Specter’s point about the Republican Party being less inclusive, Limbaugh. Rip another moderate Republican senator, John McCain, and his outspoken daughter, Meghan McCain — who dares to call for a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party — while you’re angry about Specter. If the Republican Party continues to listen to the likes of Limbaugh, it deserves to fall apart.

With that said, I am slightly concerned about the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority the Democrats will have in the U.S. Senate if and when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator. I normally don’t think it is good for a single political party to be in charge of the White House and both congressional chambers. I suspect most people feel that way, and the Republicans will rise again as a result. But this may be a rare time when it is palatable for one political party to have control of both reins of the federal government. Desperate times demand clear, decisive leadership, and the GOP’s current modus operandi appears to be simple: oppose anything and everything suggested by Democrats. Things need to get done NOW to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse.

Incidentally, Specter said he “will not be an automatic 60th vote.” Good. I don’t want 60 rubber stamps running the U.S. Senate. Nor do the American people as a whole. But we do want consensus to be reached so things get done — not stonewalling tactics and opposition just for the sake of opposition. The stakes are too high to screw around.

Republican Saxby Chambliss easily defeated Democrat Jim Martin in yesterday’s U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia, putting an end to the outside chance the Democratic Party would get a 60-seat supermajority to prevent Republican filibusters. This is good, not because Chambliss necessarily deserved to be re-elected, but because the Democrats should not run the government carte blanche. No political party should have that kind of unchecked power in federal government, lest its radical elements easily pass legislature not roundly supported by those representing the middle ground between political ideologies.

Meanwhile, the recount in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race continues, with Democrat Al Franken gaining 37 votes on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s lead due to the sudden discovery of 171 ballots that weren’t counted on election night. That seems suspicious to me. Why does it seem every election recount results in discovery of uncounted ballots? Either there are a lot of votes that go uncounted in elections with uncontested results, or subversive political operatives regularly plant new votes when recounts take place. Neither case is good for democracy.