Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as the next U.S. senator to represent Minnesota in Congress.
Smith, a Democrat, will take the place of U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who said last week he plans to resign in the midst of a growing sexual harassment scandal. Under state law, Smith will serve in Washington at least through 2018. There will be a special election in November 2018, when Minnesota voters will have a chance to weigh in on who should take Franken’s place for the remainder of his term, which expires in 2020.
“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability,” Dayton said. “There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office.”
Dayton announced the appointment Wednesday morning, after more than a week of speculation over whom he would pick. Initial reports suggested he would appoint Smith as a placeholder candidate — someone who would serve temporarily but not run to hold the seat. But on Wednesday, Smith said she intends to run for the Senate next fall.
“Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward,” Smith said. “I will be a fierce advocate in the United States Senate for economic opportunity and fairness for all Minnesotans.”
The appointment continues the rapid rise of Smith, who is serving her first term as lieutenant governor after years of working as a behind the scenes operator in DFL political circles. She was previously Dayton’s chief of staff and an adviser to his campaign in his first run for office. Before that, Smith served as chief of staff in Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office.
Smith grew up in New Mexico and has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She landed in Minnesota after taking a marketing job at General Mills and eventually started her own marketing firm. From 2003 to 2006, Smith served as the vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The appointment of Smith complicates matters for the Minnesota Legislature. Under the state Constitution, the Senate president “shall” fill any vacancy in the lieutenent governor’s office, but Republicans currently control the chamber on a single vote. Republican Senate President Michelle Fischbach planned to address reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s an underhanded ‘House of Cards’ style move. This is clearly an attempt to throw the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate out of balance,” Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, praise from Democrats poured in following the Smith appointment. “Governor Dayton appointed a true public servant to the U.S. Senate with his appointment of Tina Smith. I have had the great privilege of working with Tina in many different capacities over two decades, and she is one of the most trusted and respected leaders we have in Minnesota,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement. “Whether it’s behind the scenes or out front, Tina has contributed greatly to building a better Minnesota.”
Smith said she expects to transition into the U.S. Senate sometime in January. She will immediately get to work and start campaigning for the seat in 2018.