Dayton will appoint Tina Smith to fill Franken’s Senate seat

REUTERS/Eric Miller
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith 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.

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.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2017 - 10:16 am.

    Doesn’t that mean Dayton now has a Republican Lt. Gov?

    So now Dayton will have a Republican for Lt. Gov.? How’s THAT going to work?

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 12/13/2017 - 10:40 am.

      It is pretty easy to ignore a Lt Governor

      It is mostly a ceremonial job as long as the governor doesn’t die or resign.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/13/2017 - 10:41 am.

      Lieutenant Governor? Assistant Manager?

      I suspect he will pretty much ignore her. The Lieutenant Governor in Minnesota has a pretty limited constitutional role. Any other duties are, I believe, what the Governor decides.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2017 - 11:03 am.

      well, I hate to say it but…

      Have you seen Dayton lately? I wish him all the best but he is NOT is good physical condition.

  2. Submitted by Peter Stark on 12/13/2017 - 10:43 am.


    Michele Fischbach’s seat gets thrown to a special election, which will decide control of the Senate.

    Lt. Gov is a job that has no responsibilities or power, if the Gov doesn’t want it to.

    • Submitted by Richard Rowan on 12/13/2017 - 11:16 am.

      Maybe Not

      The Republicans say that Sen. Fischbach can remain in her Senate seat. It will probably be decided by the Court.

      But I have to say, good lord, what is wrong with Dayton. In effect he appointed a Republican to succeed him in the event he has a health crisis. And there’s probably not a snowball’s chance in hell that a DFLer can win Fischbach’s seat in a special election in the event she becomes Governor.

      Who needs enemies when you’ve got friends like Dayton or the Dems who forced Franken to resign?

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 12/13/2017 - 12:44 pm.

        I doubt she can serve in the Senate and as Lt Gov

        Separation of powers should rule that out

        • Submitted by Richard Rowan on 12/13/2017 - 02:47 pm.

          One would think…but

          Here is what Fischbach said: [the] nonpartisan Senate attorney Thomas Bottern told her the state constitution allows her to hold both jobs for the remainder of Dayton’s term, which ends in January 2019.

          But reading the MN Constitution:
          Sec. 5. Restriction on holding office. No senator or representative shall hold any other office under the authority of the United States or the state of Minnesota, except that of postmaster or of notary public. If elected or appointed to another office, a legislator may resign from the legislature by tendering his resignation to the governor.

          It looks like the Court may need to get involved if she refuses to resign.

          In the US Senate the Vice President serves as President of the Senate, so maybe the idea of separation has a few leaks.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2017 - 11:17 am.

      Yeah but…

      Aren’t you guys all assuming that Franken’s seat will necessarily be won by a Democrat in the next election? If Democrats don’t pull their act together and stop relying on Republican’s and their self inflicted wounds we could end up with a toss up. I’m looking at the way Franken and the Party handled this whole situation and I’m not encouraged.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/13/2017 - 01:24 pm.

        It won’t be unless they convince Smith to drop out

        But even then, not terribly enamored of any of the choices I’ve seen bandied about. We’ll see I suppose, best we can hope is that the governorship is kept out of it, lest we become Wisconsin 2.0.

  3. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 12/13/2017 - 11:41 am.

    Jumping the Gun

    Maybe the Governor should have waited with this announcement until after Senator Franken actually resigns.

  4. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 12/13/2017 - 11:45 am.

    The repubs

    Met with Gov. to discuss options. One is to have a special session and elect a Dem with safe seat to Lt. Gov. the Repubs would be infavor of this also, but it requires a special session which lets in chance of reopening tax bill, particularly since is playing out like Dayton thought it would. That would put Repubs in position of defending their own fiscal irresponsibility before an election.

    That is the problem with playing games instead of responsible legislating.

  5. Submitted by B Carlson on 12/13/2017 - 12:04 pm.

    Great choice for ALL of Minnesota

    By past actions Tina Smith has shown that she is aware of and represents the entire state, not just the metro area.

    And announcing right from the start that she intends to run for the seat in a year will encourage her to work that much harder, not just occupying the seat as a caretaker for a year.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/13/2017 - 12:58 pm.

    My 2¢

    Smith seems a fine choice to me, with both DFL **and** business bonfides, and I look forward, should she win on her own in 2018, and again in 2020, to the state having a pair of very qualified female senators. We’ll be better off as a result.

    Having a Republican Lieutenant Governor is, as I’m told native Minnesotans like to say, “different,” but not necessarily harmful to either party. Sadly, the new GOP chairman, whom I’d thought better of until now, has characterized it as a clever, underhanded move, suggesting Karl Rove-type maneuvering, though those are my words, not hers. That Ms. Carnahan has taken that line also suggests to me that she’s been listening to too many right-wing conspiracy theorists and other Republican trolls.

    I’m a little confused about why she’d need to run on her own in 2018 ••and•• in 2020, when Franken’s seat would not normally be up for grabs normally until 2020. Is there a constitutional provision, when someone is appointed to serve for “the remainder” of someone’s Senate terms, that requires an election as part of the next Congressional cycle?

    • Submitted by Ed Day on 12/13/2017 - 02:22 pm.

      Rules vary by state, but Yes

      It looks like appointed senators may only serve until the next statewide election.

      The 14 states that use special elections rather than giving a governor that power seem to generally allow the winner to serve out the remainder of the term. Doug Jones will face reelection in 2020.

      Again, rules and timing of special elections vary by state.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/13/2017 - 02:25 pm.

      Senate Vacancies

      States get to set their own procedures for filling congressional vacancies. In Minnesota, if a US Senator does not complete his or her term, the Governor appoints someone to serve until the next regular election. The appointed Senator does not serve out the remainder of the predecessor’s term, but only serves until the next election.

      When Walter Mondale was elected Vice President, Governor Anderson resigned, and was appointed Senator by his successor, Governor Perpich. Even though this move was widely anticipated, it still raised hackles (and was the likely cause of the 1978 Minnesota Massacre). The law was changed to its present form shortly afterwards. When Hubert Humphrey died in early 1978, Muriel Humphrey was appointed to take his seat and served until Senator Durenberger was elected that fall.

  7. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 12/13/2017 - 01:51 pm.


    What if the Republicans hold a special session before Franken resigns to vote a susceptible Democrat in as Senate leader?

    Then the Democrat is moved to Lt Gov, and Republicans get another senate seat!

    A win-win solution (if you are republican…)

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/13/2017 - 02:18 pm.

    Just following electoral system logic: Governor-appointed Tina Smith has to run for election at the earliest possible electoral opportunity for Minnesotans to choose somebody for that second Senate seat. So, rather than have a tiny portion of voters elect someone (the Alabama race was decided by, what, about 25% of voters yesterday?), we do the 2018 Marathon Election, where everybody’s up: both Senators, all our U. S. House of Representative people, the governor, and Lord knows what else.

    Talk about a year in which to Get Out the Vote!

Leave a Reply