There sat three elected, certificate-carrying and duly sworn-in public officials. They gathered this morning in St. Paul to speak to the one guy in the room whose election status is, well … up in the air.
That guy was Al Franken, and he was talking about the nation’s newly passed and still-being-deciphered $787 billion economic stimulus package with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Brooklyn Park Mayor Steven Lampi and St. Paul School Board Member Anne Carroll.
The event was real — the local leaders told Franken of their concerns about the mechanics of activating the stimulus dollars, about the foreclosure crisis, about the needs of city schools, about the difficulty of long-range planning in such a dire economy — but, clearly, the event was also staged.
Four government officials in a room in a West Side community center chatting about the devastation the economy is wreaking on hardworking Americans didn’t necessarily require an invite to the media.
But there we were, dutiful journos with cameras and tape recorders in hand, witnessing what was clearly an effort to show that Franken, who seems to be a senator but isn’t yet, is gearing up for the moment when he would be sworn in.
Obviously, he is waiting for the end of the election contest brought by his rival Norm Coleman, who once was a senator but isn’t at the moment.
The trial to resolve that matter continued briefly today with Coleman’s side calling several witnesses.
Coleman side asks judges to reconsider ruling
More dramatically, Coleman’s lawyers asked the three-judge panel of Elizabeth Hayden, Kurt Marben and Denise Reilly to reconsider portions of their Friday ruling.
Coleman lawyer and spokesman Ben Ginsberg says the judges have gotten themselves into a quandary. He used the word “standards” a few times in a couple of news briefings today and Coleman lawyers used the word a few more times in the letter (PDF) they sent to the judges today.
“Standards” not being applied equally are Bush v. Gore “equal protection” fightin’ words.
Franken lawyer Marc Elias scoffs at it all, saying, “They continue to pursue this Bush v. Gore line of argument that so far they haven’t had any success with.”
But they keep on keeping on. Some of the ballot categories the judges disallowed Friday have already been counted in some earlier decisions, Ginsberg said and the lawyers write. No, they can’t uncount what’s been counted, Ginsberg said, but, yes, they can consider the “contradictions.”
Ginsberg pointed to 933 votes counted by the State Canvassing Board last month and to 24 Franken voters who petitioned the court earlier this month. He claimed that if they were reviewed today — using the guidelines established Friday by the three judges — as many as 100 of those votes theoretically could be thrown out.
He called the court’s decision Friday “troubling to ever get finality and validity to these results.”
Of course, there’s this other thing down the road called an appeal for which Ginsberg and other Coleman lawyers now seem to be preparing a record.
But three hours before the 20-minute post-lunch court session, Franken listened attentively at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building, just off St. Paul’s Cesar Chavez Street, a 10-minute drive across the Mississippi River from the trial site.
Franken spoke for an hour with mayors Coleman and Lampi and school board member Carroll, all discussing how the cutbacks nationwide are trashing cities and suburbs alike.
Franken said he would have voted for President Obama’s stimulus package. Norm Coleman has said he would have voted against it.
Tricky, uncharted territory for Franken
For his part, Franken is in an awkward damned-if-you, damned-if-you don’t position. If he works at home and keeps in touch behind-the-scenes with (potential) future Senate colleagues, he’s accused of hiding.
If he goes on vacation, people wonder if he’s out of touch.
If he holds media-invited public sessions — in which his staff refers to him as “Senator-elect Franken” — he’s asked about being presumptuous.
“I don’t think this is presumptuous at all,” he told reporters after his meeting. “I think Minnesotans know that it’s very possible that I’ll be in the Senate, and I want to hit the ground running when I get there.”
He also said he’d report the results of the St. Paul meeting — and a later one today in Duluth — to Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Washington.
As far as the press release calling him “Senator Elect,” he said: “Senator-elect is the technical term … I won the recount … You can call me Al.”
But that’s not what the merciless Coleman spokespeople called him.
“Al Franken’s ‘Senator-for-a-day’ public relations stunt is not a replacement for proven leadership,” Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich wrote in an email to MinnPost. “… Senator Coleman consults on a regular basis with his colleagues, Minnesota officials and others on issues related to the economy and jobs …We have all seen that Al Franken has no regard for the Minnesota election process, but pretending to be a senator before we know who really won is just another sign of desperation from a candidate who’s worried about what will happen if all the votes are counted.”
Ouch. What’s a senator-in-waiting to do?
Rely on his lawyers, who slowly, but surely, are winning decisions that are eroding the universe of ballots that the Coleman side is fighting to keep.
Absentee ballot ‘universe’ still in flux
Ginsberg today used the figure 3,300, down from the 3,500 ballots the Coleman campaign estimated were still in the universe Friday.
Franken lawyer Marc Elias, without providing a solid number, said he expects the countable ballots to be nearer to the 1,600 figure that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie cited months ago as wrongly rejected absentee ballots. And 933 have been counted already.
Elias got downright astronomical today, practically Carl Sagan-like, when asked about the real impact of the court’s ruling Friday, which eliminated, he said, between a quarter and a half of Coleman’s 4,800-ballot sought-after universe.
“Whole galaxies went poof,” said Elias, his hands depicting the disappearances. “Let’s just be thankful the Milky Way survived. [Franken legal colleagues] Kevin Hamilton and David Lillehaug and I were talking about whether or not it created a black hole … Kevin said, ‘No, no, no,’ it was really more of a red dwarf, which is a particularly unpowerful star that emits very little light or heat. So, maybe that’s where we’re at.”
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the city of St. Paul, state of Minnesota, planet of Earth.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.