UPDATE: Around midday, the offices of Sen. Norm Coleman were officially closed, though whether they’ll stay closed pending results of a recount and any possible court cases remains unclear.
About 20 Coleman staffers had showed up for work at the senator’s Washington office today, but they were ordered to close the office around midday by Howard Gantman, staff director for the Senate Rules and Administration committee.
Gantman said that Coleman’s staff could NOT carry on Senate business. The senator’s term had officially expired on Saturday.
“Without question, this is a unique situation in the history of the Senate and specifics are still to be determined as to the future of the Senate office,” Coleman said in the statement.
A person in Coleman’s office did say that staff will continue to do work on “urgent pending projects.” The staff person also said if constituents leave messages on the Coleman phone line with “new urgent matters,” the staff will do its best to direct those callers to an office where they can receive help.
During the holidays, there was a sign in the window of the metro office of Sen. Norm Coleman showing that the senator’s office would be open Monday morning. Sometime over the weekend, that sign disappeared.
Early Monday morning, the office was closed, without explanation. There was a stack of weekend newspapers outside the door, including one with the foreboding headline: “Coleman’s best hope is in court.”
Other than that, darkness in the office in the International Building off University Avenue in St. Paul. (That same office once housed the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s staff.)
“Usually, they’re open by now,” said a passer-by. “Maybe you should try contacting Al Franken’s office.”
Instead, a call was placed to Coleman’s local office number, and it appeared to be forwarded to a Washington, D.C., switchboard.
“Senator Coleman’s office,” a male voice answered.
“Are members of the senator’s staff working today?” I asked.
The senator’s communications’ director is/was LeRoy Coleman, no relation to the senator.
“I’ll be in and out of the office all day,” was the response on LeRoy Coleman’s voice mail.
A call was placed to Mark Drake, who has been a communications voice for Coleman’s campaign and, now, the recount process.
“I’m sorry, I really can’t help you with that,” said Drake, a good young man who typically does his best to help. “That’s business of the Senate office.”
Drake suggested I try LeRoy Coleman. (Very important man, LeRoy Coleman.)
Is there still an office of Sen. Norm Coleman now that his term is officially over?
It all seems rather foggy. Even the staff of Amy Klobuchar, who for certain is a senator from Minnesota, was scrambling to find out the status of Coleman’s office.
Website provides no answer
There’s no help on Sen. Coleman’s website. Under the heading “breaking news,” there’s this headline: “Senator Norm Coleman’s Statement on the Auto Bailout Procedural Vote.”
That story broke weeks ago.
Officially, Coleman’s first term expired Saturday. Even though the outcome of his race has not been determined, an article in Politico suggested that the senator will have to give up his desk on the Senate floor and his personal office when the 111th Congress convenes on Tuesday. Coleman would be allowed on the Senate floor, a privilege granted to all former members who are not lobbyists. (Hmmm. Given that caveat, how many former senators actually qualify to be on the floor?)
Presumably, the senator also no longer is riding around Minnesota in a big, black SUV that had the words “Mobile Office of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman” printed on the side. Depending on your point of view, that SUV always looked very important, or absurdly self-aggrandizing.
Set aside partisan politics in all of this and what you end up with is an employment story.
The size of the staffs of U.S. senators is based on the population of the states the senators represent. Coleman’s staff likely is/was about 50 people, 60 percent of whom likely work/worked in his D.C. office. The senator also has/had offices in St. Paul, Mankato, Grand Rapids and Moorhead.
Most of the Washington staff people are government pros, hired for their expertise and understanding of the Washington bureaucracy as much as for their loyalty to a given office holder.
Senate staffs don’t lack for work. They do research on various bills and serve constituents with all sorts of problems. Sometimes, those cases, involving anything from medical problems to immigration issues, are deeply complex and drag on for months.
Are staffers still working?
Are Coleman’s staffers continuing to work on cases involving constituents? Only LeRoy Coleman appears to be in a position to answer that question.
Even if they aren’t working, many of Coleman’s staffers likely still are getting paid. They could get paid up to 60 days as they seek new work.
The senator isn’t so fortunate.
In some respects, Coleman isn’t so different from the rest of us. He’s always lived a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. He’s got a big remodeling mortgage on his St. Paul home and, temporarily at least, he appears to be caught in a tight financial spot: He no longer is collecting his $169,300-a-year salary, and presumably rules guiding fundraising during recounts are no different from campaign fundraising rules. The candidate cannot benefit directly from those funds.
So what happens next to all those employees? Those offices? The SUV? The newspaper subscriptions?
Only LeRoy Coleman knows. And he’s in and out of the office all day.