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What Al Franken’s resignation means for the 2018 election — and beyond

What Al Franken’s resignation means for the 2018 election — and beyond
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Gov. Mark Dayton will need to decide who to appoint to fill the vacancy created after Sen. Al Franken resigns.

The toppling of a United States senator has set off a historic chain of events in Minnesota politics, one that’s left top officials and candidates scrambling ahead of a critical election year.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Thursday he will resign from the chamber “in the coming weeks,” after several women accused him of groping or forcibly kissing them.

There will be an election to replace Franken next November, two years ahead of schedule. But first, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has a major decision to make. He gets to pick who will serve until the election, and many are wondering if Dayton will appoint a placeholder senator — someone who will serve in the office but won’t run to remain in the seat after 2018 — or a person who can hit the ground running and get a headstart on next fall’s campaign.

Dayton hasn’t given any indications of his thinking on the matter. “Events have unfolded quickly,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Thus, I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple of days.”

Regardless, the race will attract plenty of interest, from both DFLers and Republicans, in an election year that will feature plenty of other races on the ballot, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's reelection bid; an open governor’s seat; three other constitutional offices; as many as five competitive congressional seats; and the entire Minnesota House. Some of the candidates currently seeking the governor’s office or congressional seats could switch gears and run for the Senate, dramatically reshaping the field.

‘Historic’ opportunity for Minnesota

First, though, Dayton will need to decide whom to appoint to fill the vacancy created after Franken resigns. Many say a woman should be appointed to fill his seat, especially in the wake of Franken’s sexual harassment scandal and the national moment of reckoning on the issue. Franken himself referred to his replacement as a “her” in his resignation speech.

Such a decision would be historic. With Klobuchar already representing Minnesota in the Senate, a female appointee would mark the first time in state history two women represented Minnesota in the chamber — something that’s happened in only a few states.

“Given the circumstances of Franken’s resignation, it would be a great opportunity for him to appoint a woman,” University of Minnesota political science professor Eric Ostermeier said. “It does also give the party and the state a chance — a state which has a no history of electing a woman to the governorship — to have two female U.S. senators.”

The most-mentioned possible short-term replacement for Franken is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who considered running for governor this fall but ultimately backed away from the race. Before getting into politics, Smith attended Stanford University and went on to earn 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.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
In a statement responding to Franken’s resignation Thursday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith thanked him for his time in office but gave no indication that she’s potentially heading to the Senate.

She got her start in DFL politics in the 1990s as a volunteer, eventually becoming the vice president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. She served for years as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff before joining Dayton’s campaign team for governor. She served as Dayton’s chief of staff during his first term before running to be lieutenant governor in his second term.

Appointing a sitting lieutenant governor to the Senate would also have implications for the Minnesota Legislature. The state Constitution says the president of the state Senate, Republican Michelle Fischbach, would become lieutenant governor in the case of a vacancy.

But Republicans currently control the chamber by a single-vote margin of 34-33, and losing Fischbach could set up a tie in the chamber. There’s no precedent for this situation in Minnesota history, and some lawyers are already looking into whether the Senate president can refuse to move into the job of lieutenant governor.

In a statement responding to Franken’s announcement Thursday, Smith thanked him for his time in office but gave no indication that she’s potentially heading to the Senate. “Sexual harassment can never be tolerated in our politics, our businesses, or anywhere else,” she said. “Now, it is on all of us to come together and make the progress necessary to live up to the values we believe in. Governor Dayton and I remain committed to ensuring that Minnesota is a place where everyone has the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

Other women mentioned as possible appointees to Franken’s seat include St. Paul DFL Rep. Erin Murphy, who is currently running for governor, and Attorney General Lori Swanson, who is rumored to be considering a run for governor. Several state legislators have also been mentioned as possibilities, including Edina Sen. Melisa Franzen and Minneapolis Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Senate seat puts spotlight on Minnesota

And then there’s next November. With so many competitive races on the ballot, Minnesota was already going to be a target for national groups during the 2018 election cycle. Adding a second Senate race just makes it even more critical in the calculation for Democratic and Republican groups nationally as they look to who will control Congress in 2019.

“National groups know that if they want to do well, they need to well in Minnesota,” University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said.

Despite the fact that Minnesota Democrats have multiple seats that are now vulnerable in the next election, Pearson said 2018 looks like a good year for the party. “The party of the president nearly always loses seats in the midterm, and combined with the fact that Trump is extremely unpopular, it’s shaping up to be a good year for Democrats,” she said.

The situation “doesn’t fill me with panic,” said Javier Morillo, a longtime DFL activist and president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26. “The top of the ticket will be Amy Klobuchar, who is very popular around the state,” he said. “And having enormous amounts of national resources in a year that is going to be a nationalized election is not a bad thing.”

Other than the aforementioned women who could step into the Senate, operatives say there are other candidates who could quickly launch a statewide race for the Senate. That includes former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who ran for governor in 2010, and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is currently running for governor. Progressive groups and candidates are also encouraging DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison to be appointed and run for the Senate.

But that hasn't tempered interest from Republican groups. Moments after Franken's Thursday announcement of his upcoming resignation, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said he is “confident” Republicans can win Franken’s seat “and look forward to expanding our Senate majority.”

Many are looking to see what former Gov. Tim Pawlenty might do. He said earlier this year that he was “politically retired,” but many think he’s leaving the door open to running for either governor or the Senate next fall. Pawlenty first considered running for the Senate in 2002 before he ultimately sought the governor's office. Others say current Republican Minnesota congressional Reps. Tom Emmer and Erik Paulsen could jump in the race, and Republican state Sen. Karin Housley said she’s discussing a run with her family.  Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost to Franken in a close recount in 2008, said he doesn’t plan to run for the seat in 2018.

A rare opening

Looking back in state history, openings like this don’t come around all that often. Since the 1930s, governors have only appointed six people to the U.S. Senate, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

In 1976, after Gov. Wendell Anderson resigned from office and Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich became governor, Perpich appointed Anderson to the Senate to replace Walter Mondale, who had been elected vice president. In 1978, Muriel Humphrey was appointed to the Senate by Perpich to finish the term of husband Hubert H. Humphrey when he died. She didn’t run for the seat when it came up on the ballot. That fall, two Republicans were elected to the Senate, David Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz. That was also the last time both Minnesota Senate seats were on the ballot at the same time. 

That election became known as the “Minnesota Massacre,” with some saying voters lashed out at Democrats for Anderson trying to anoint himself a U.S. Senator. Observers have pointed to that election as a cautionary tale for Dayton as he considers who should take Franken’s place, and that he should avoid the appearance that he’s hand-picking the person who will serve and have a leg up in the Senate race. But others say the Franken appointment represents a dramatically different circumstance: Anderson all-but appointed himself to the Senate, an act of explicit self-interest that miffed voters.

In 2002, then-Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Dean Barkley to serve the remainder of Sen. Paul Wellstone's term after Wellstone was killed in a plane crash weeks before the election. Coleman ultimately won that election.

Barkley said he managed to get a lot accomplished, despite the fact that there were only about 10 working days left in the term by the time he got there. He passed a Wellstone memorial bill and was a key vote in the Senate on at least five other issues before he left.

Whether or not they plan to run for the seat, he said, Franken’s replacement can jump in and do plenty of work before 2018 election. “I knew it was a two-month appointment and I made the best of it,” he said. “I knew what I was doing and I knew what I wanted to get done and I figured out a way to do it. It depends on how much energy they want to put into the job.”

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Comments (15)

In my opinion, Smith's

In my opinion, Smith's history with PP will make her just as much an ineffective pariah to the majority as Franken was made by the left.

If specious symbolism is the aim, and at this juncture who can say that it is not, Smith is the perfect choice. If Minnesota is to have an effective Senate legation, she is the worst.

Specious Symbolism?

"In my opinion, Smith's history with PP will make her just as much an ineffective pariah to the majority as Franken was made by the left." In other, I'm sure coincidental, news, the Justice Department has sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking for documents from its investigation of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices “for investigative use.”

We don't have a government anymore. The country is being run like a comment thread on Breitbart.

Incidentally, a "legation" is a diplomatic representative one step below an ambassador. The term isn't used in diplomacy anymore. Is this a wry comment on federalism?

Specious symbolism

What would an "effective Senate legation" from Minnesota look like, I wonder? Another Republican or two, maybe who would align themselves or be aligned with the so-called "Freedom Caucus"? Just what's needed are two more GOP rubber stamps votes to help it enact disasters like the tax bills now pending or the freedom to kill gun bill passed by the House.

Tina Smith has not been a highly visible presence in Minnesota politics but I've heard her speak and I believe she has been a behind the scenes force. Her accomplishments, including being a VP of Planned Parenthood, hardly make her a "specious symbol", except for people who have in their own little minds made Planned Parenthood a symbol -a specious one which falsely connects reproductive rights and matters of personal freedom and choice to being 'left" in politics. Fortunately, the majority of Minnesotans have not made this a "litmus test" issue for being elected, otherwise there would probably be no Democratic politicians holding office here. If Tina is appointed, I very much doubt it will be intended as some "symbolic" gesture, specious or otherwise. Nor will her "history with PP" make any less effective as a voice for Minnesota or progressive ideas than Al Franken was until a few weeks ago. It's what she or whoever else is appointed want to make of it.

My 2¢

I have no idea who will be appointed to fill Franken's seat, or how the majority of Minnesotans will react to that appointment. As a non-native, most of Minnesota's political history is, to me, simply stories on paper until we get to the Pawlenty era. I was here for the tail-end of that, and while I've voted for Republicans in the past, Pawlenty would not be someone I'd support, nor would most of the current crop of Minnesota Republicans. Too much right wing rhetoric, ignorance of both economics and social justice, small-minded parochialism, and , of course, on the national scene, the GOP has effectively abandoned any claim, even a specious one, to fiscal responsibility.

A staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood, I view Tina Smith's service to that organization as a definite plus, but I don't generally vote for someone based on a single issue, so whether or not she'd be a good choice as a Senator for Minnesota is something that I'd have to decide in light of her position(s) on other issues. If Governor Dayton decides to appoint someone as a "place-holder" until the 2018 election, I'm fine with Tina Smith, but I'm also fine with several other people mentioned in the article. It'll be entertaining and then some to see how this all plays out.

Once that issue is settled, I look forward to the Congressional hearings by the Democratic miniority on the sexual misconduct of the Current Occupant, or perhaps the predatory Roy Moore, should voters in Alabama elect him. Even if, as I expect, the minority in Congress gets zero support and plenty of attacks from sitting Republicans, public hearings about sexual misconduct ought to make for bizarre PR for a sitting president. We live in interesting times.

Congressional hearings

Amen. Let's have them congressional hearings for the current occupant and for Roy Moore who, I suspect, will be elected.
We should have held them for Sen. Franken and very possibly absolve him.

An investigation might well

An investigation might well have exonerated Franken. Unfortunately for him, his leftist colleagues would have none of that.

Smith for now, thoughtful choice later.

Democrats will need for carrrry tgevcities by huge margins, the subrbd by small margins and be competitive statewide. Here are three options - a woman as respected and warm as Klobuchar, a greater 'Minnesota leader (Tim Walz) or a well liked big city mayor (Rybak or Coleman). As capable as Ellison is, greater Minnesota is not ready to deal with a Muslim in the Senate and millions would floe in to prevent it from happening.

We have just received a big lesson in taking people in from outside of politics. Trump clearly is a rank amateur. Franken controlled his Comedian tendencies in the Senate, but his past tripped him up. We need proven political leaders who get results. Washington as a telenovela just doesn't work / just as boring as reality TV. Let's make government work again.

Smith Now? Why?

Why would Dayton risk unified GOP control of the legislature & the executive branch? A GOP senator would succeed Smith as Lt. Gov, and I don't care if the sitting gov is 72 or 32, an untimely death of physical incantation would bring us right to work for less, the death of the right of public employees to organize to better their lives, extreme voter restriction and a tax give away like Brownback brought Kansas and Walker brought WI.

There is no doubt that given half a chance they would slam though everything they possibly could as fast as they could.
And all for a ten month senate seat baby sitter?

Anybody BUT Smith, no matter what her qualifications are.

Despite the Media: Muslims Believe in the Teachings of Jesus

Having a broad background in the study of history -- of governments, societies, arts, religions, science, diplomacy, and military activities dating back 7,200 years, I have met and become aware of both U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN, 5th Congressional District), and the Islamic teachings of The Prophet Muhammad of the Holy Quran.

As an alumnus of De La Salle Catholic College Preparatory High School in Minneapolis on Nicollet Island (1980), but raised as a Lutheran, and studied at Macalester College and University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, and having, in my early adulthood and then in my thirties, attended schools and traveled as a private citizen in Europe and Central America; I read an entire English version of the Quran, Islam's primary resource for moral, social, spiritual, and political development, during six days in March of 2017 (this year)..

The truth of what Islam and Muslims actually believe is much different than what many politicians, including our hailed Commander in Chief believes to be true of Muslims. That man, like myself, has only a bachelor's degree: his is in finance; mine is in history and the social sciences, with some training in the analysis of multinational businesses and in business ethics in finance. He is consumed by the notion of elitism and financial wealth as being an indication of his supremacy and the supremacy of others with high wealth. His net worth is only around $3B, and is dwarfed by the financial and corporate wealth of global entrepreneurs like Warren Buffet, Chinese billionaire "Jack Ma," -- who took only twenty and some years to develop scores of billions of dollars in assets by starting small businesses and then "ecosystems" that value all people, rich and poor, and who is looked upon with great respect and adulation by people who know of his kindness, integrity, and intellect, and creativity -- and upper tier billionaire, businessman, inventor, and philanthropist, Bill Gates..

The Muslim community is a very caring and cleanly society which bases its development on not only the teachings of the Quran, but also in its acceptance and teaching of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Muslims believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

While in Chapter 8, there are stories of Muslims going to war against both Christians and Jews, and also Hindu communities, because those communities had either fallen away from the teachings of Moses and Jesus, or were polytheists and idol worshippers -- as Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion -- and other prominent people known as highly esteemed in the two preceding religions who taught godliness.

Later chapters, in particular, Chapter 22, talk about the only reason a Muslim can go to war is to defend their community from attacks against their community by forces which are hostile and injurious to Muslims simply because they are Muslim.

The notion of brotherhood among all people is also taught in the Quran, just as in the New Testament.

True Muslims, as taught in the Quran, do not cut off the heads of their prisoners; they are taught to treat their prisoners kindly and to feed them.

While Hezbollah and Hamas have bad names in our national community, they have practiced defensive and retaliatory attacks against what many believe to be a Jewish State, Israel, despite the current administration of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and his foreign minister having not followed the Ten Commandments -- by killing Muslims and allowing the theft of Muslim-owned private property in the West Bank.

As an important note, Bibi and many in his administration, just as is true of Donald John Trump's administration, is under investigation for corruption; the Netanyahu government is also recognized by a large cohort of Israel's society to be unpopular.

Based on the major news outlets, Palestinians are made to look like very bad people, based on the stories supported by right-wing Jewish lobbyists and a press which is primarily made up of corporations owned by Israeli communities who have not respected the rights and earlier control of that region by people who were not displaced during World War II, after which the British government and other governments assisted Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, and others Jews, to have a religious homeland. Personally, I believe in peace and democracy.

I'm not against corporations; one of my friend's family's are principal shareholders of a formerly wholly- family owned South American retail company valued, in 2011, at $56B USD - which that year had greater revenues than all of the oil industry in its international headquarters host-nation. That department store corporation, with a highly popular online presence, started as a two room tailor shop in the 1930's, and has grown throughout the decades; they have a favorable relationship with the unions, and the Company is one of the favorite places for young adults to seek work experience and professional growth and advancement.

Prior World War II, and even among many true Jewish and true Muslim citizens today, and among Christians, there was peace and friendship for hundreds of years.

For those who are reading this kind of information for the first time, and do not have a background in religions of the world, history, or sociology, it is important to remember that just as many U.S. citizens do not practice the true teachings of Jesus Christ (and one of my favorites, Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, "The Love Chapter"), it is important to recognize that just because people of a certain race and manner of dress say they are of a certain religion -- or that their region or nation is popularly thought to be of a distinct and general religious identity -- doesn't mean that their public or private behavior is actually reflective of the true teachings which make up the primary developmental guidance of the religion principally identified as "the religion" of any given person or region. Italy, which is where Vatican City is located in Rome, was once thougt to be a "Catholic Nation." This is nlo longer true in practiced or social and political identity.

One of the other things that is not true of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, is that men are not taught to treat women in a cruel manner; teachings on relationships, including divorce, were meant to encourage and compel men to treat their wives and ex-spouses with kindness and favorable care.

In my reading of the Quran, I did not find any suggestion that that holy scripture said that Believers who are men and who go to Paradise upon their death, receive "seventy-two virgins."

Moreover, as with the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Quran is adamant and direct in the teaching of the virtue of forgiveness. In a conversation with a Muslim acquaintance, and also based on my faint recall of the guidance I read during March 2017, I believe that the Quran encourages people to "forgive your brother seventy-seven times," if they have sinned against [you].

So, if you have gotten this far in my long-winded reply, I hope that if you are from Outstate Minnesota or the suburbs of any of Minnesota's major cities, or are "city-dwellers," like myself, in south Minneapolis,
you will have learned something new about the religion that our current MN Fifth District Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison -- a trained attorney and someone interested in diplomacy and humane treatment of all members in our global society -- practices.

I will also recall for those who were not interested in Keith's moments of taking his oath of office, that he did not use the Christian Holy Bible, but U.S. President Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Quran. For those who are not up on U.S. constitutional history, Thomas Jefferson was a primary player in the development of our Constitution of the United States of America; and like others among his acquaintance and circle of friends and political allies, he studied histories and philosophies from among the world -- not just the Old and New Testaments.

If you believe you are a Christian, and have had a bad awareness of Islam and Muslims, please consider that Muslims highly revere Mother Mary, Jesus Christ's mom, and believe in the Immaculate Conception of Jesus, as do most people who claim to be practitioners of the Christian faith. In the principal teaching of Islam, in Arabic, the word "Islam" translates to "Peace," and the word "Muslim," translates to "Obey."

True Muslims will never become terrorists. True Muslims, will treat their spouses, friends, colleagues, and others in a sincere and kind manner. True Muslims, as opposed to those who use violence and beheadings to punish criminals and prisoners, as based on ancient Arabic practices (really, many ancient cultures anywhere in the world), do not condemn or dismember their prisoners in an act of "justice."

In many chapters of the Quran, The Prophet admonishes Believers to "do not be mischievous," and that "Allah is often merciful and forgiving."

While I am not officially a Muslim, I have grown up among several Muslim law clients in my dad's law practice -- including having been at the signing of papers to pass property for a mosque in the Twin Cities to the imam who was responsible for that mosque's development. My dad, who is a retired corporate, business and real estate law attorney, and former assistant MN attorney general, who was also an assistant U.S. district attorney, assisted the father of an Egyptian Art History course classmate of mine close on papers to establish a University of Minnesota area restaurant in the 1970's.

Before graduating from college in 1996, I moved to an iconic apartment complex in the West Bank Neighborhood of Minneapolis, where, eventually, thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians of both the Muslim and Christian faiths now call home; peole from Asia and of Latin American and Native American background also live here in peace and in a general state of good-housekeeping.

These neighbors are very kind and generally very quiet -- but have strong and loving extended families. Some are stay at home moms and grandmothers, others are professionals in highly educated professional niches -- such as law, business, medicine, and engineering. Others are small business owners, or are so new to the U.S. -- like all of our family members in this nation were, with my first immigrant ancestor coming from Ireland (a Joyce clan member) in 1810 -- that they are in school and learning English. One of my friends and neighbors, Abdi, is in his middle-age life, and was recently thrilled to tell me that he just graduated from the sixth grade.

All said, I encourage anyone who will vote -- as I encourage each and everyone of our citizens, from all parties -- to consider Congressman Keith Ellison as a top choice to become our State's U.S. Senator in the event he runs for that office in 2018. His staff is very professional and interested in everyone's ideas, and they have proven to be friendly and professional and willing to help on matters that a Member of Congress can assist their constituents.

Again, Muslims believe in the teaching of all of our Western religions. They follow the teachings of Moses and Jesus, and they revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, through Immaculate Conception. Both Pope John Paul II, and Pope Francis I have made a point of developing stronger friendships and care with Muslims leaders and communities.

Despite a Turkish man, who thought he was acting as a true Muslim by shooting Pope John Paul II in an attempted assassination, the pope went to his prison cell to speak with him as a brother, and to share with his would-be killer, his forgiveness and acceptance; the Turk later converted to Catholicism, and became a Christian.

Barry N. Peterson, B.A., History
Minneapolis, MN -- USA

Our New Senator

I think Lori Swanson is a strong candidate. She has won State wide by impressive margins and might clear the field on both the Democratic and Republican sides in the 2018 senate election.

Lori Swanson? Yes!

Place someone who can become a strong incumbent in 2018. She has been an outstanding State Attorney General and would be excellent for the Senate seat. We need someone capable of continuing the great work that Senator Franken has recently achieved. She could and would do that.

Minnesotan Will 'Re-elect' Klobuchar and a Republican for Senate

From where I am sitting, I am foreseeing a situation in November 2018 where Minnesota voters faced with a situation where they have to elect two US Senators they will reelect Klobuchar and decide to vote in a Republican if the GOP is smart enough to nominate a candidate they can stand.

For the DFL to stand a chance of keeping the seat Gov. Dayton needs to dispense with the placeholder argument and just get someone who plans to run in November to keep the seat.

Given Minnesota politics right now (where Trump came close to winning), I don't see the DFL sweeping the table and getting all the three big seats up in November i.e. Two US Senate seats and the governorship.Just too much opportunity for the GOP to pick one of them. For the DFL to have a chance to keep all three, Dayton holds the keys. Who knows what will happen between now and November and even the supposed 'safe' Klobuchar seat could be endangered given her predisposition not to offfend anyone. Just look at how ratings for Jimmy Fallon vis-a-vis Colbert and Kimmel have taken a hit for being too nice.

I hope Dayton doesn't appoint a corporatist like

...Pawlenty or Rybak, each of whom talk out of both sides of their mouth. Rybak helped shove a spendy stadium few in the city wanted down our throats - for which he will not be forgiven - and Pawlenty's main skill is false speech and misrepresentation, but he is very good at it, if that's what MN needs in the Senate.

But the greasy skills and chicanery of people like these two are not what we need in the Senate, as it is full of lizards already.

I think Ms. Smith would be a reliable liberal vote while we take more time to consider the whole field. Also, she would carry herself with integrity, one of our real needs at this time.

Rep. Keith Ellison

Mr. Ellison would make a fine Muslim Senator and he would make MN proud.

There is no more consistent progressive voice in our delegation.

If there is a female litmus test, Lori Swanson has earned the right of refusal. She is the very best AG we have had (IMHO), and we need her, or someone like her, continuing to work to protect the interests of Minnesotans..

Swanson

While I have great respect for Lori Swanson, I'd rather have her as Governor where she could utilize her grasp of state issues.