Al Franken Resignation – Why Al Franken Needed to Resign

Al Franken Resignation – Why Al Franken Needed to Resign

When the first allegation of inappropriate conduct came out about Democratic Senator Al Franken, I was shocked, but my surprise wore off quickly. As a local I’ve followed Franken’s career for years, watching him make the move from progressive radio-show host to Senate candidate and eventually to Minnesota’s junior senator. I vividly remember the fight within the feminist contingent of the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Laborer Party is the official name of the Minnesota Democrats) during the party primary when his attitude toward women was questioned and the allegations of misogyny from his Saturday Night Live skits that resurfaced during the general election as the GOP ran ads calling the candidate “degrading to women…to us all.”

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I advocated for Franken to resign from the moment the first story broke last month – a call that got louder as each new allegation hit the press. Yes, Al Franken had kissed the top of my baby’s head at a fundraiser almost a decade ago. Yes, I’ve seen him draw his freehand map of the United States repeatedly, and it never ceases to amaze me. And yes, he has pushed to stop sexual assault victims from footing the bill to have their own rape kits processed, voted against abortion and birth control restrictions, and championed stripping funding from defense contractors that punished women who sued due to sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination. But if we ever hope to end a culture that allows women to be preyed upon, harassed, and degraded by men in power, that means holding our allies accountable for their actions, and not just our enemies.

And this wasn’t an “easy” case, either.

For those looking in at Minnesota, calling on Franken to resign – as dozens of his colleagues, led by the female senators, did yesterday – seemed like a simple way to address the issue head on, one that has little political fallout and gives Democrats moral high ground to call out Republicans who aren’t willing to do the same to police their own. But while no allegations of sexual assault should be evaluated as a political calculation, this argument also doesn’t hold up when you look at the on-the-ground reality. There is nothing easy about replacing a Democrat in Minnesota, and our landscape is far more complicated than most national observers understand.

It is true that Governor Mark Dayton – a Democrat – will appoint another Democrat to replace Franken, but that’s only the beginning of the ramifications that this resignation will create. An appointed senator means that the state will have two Senate seats up for election in the 2018 midterms – Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar will be running for another term, and there will be a race to finish the last two years of Franken’s term as well. Adding another Democratic seat into the 2018 election landscape will greatly reduce the chance that Democrats have of winning back the Senate during the midterms – while Klobuchar’s seat was extraordinarily safe, this new seat would be anything but, since there would be no incumbent running. Dayton has already signaled his intention to appoint Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith as a placeholder, reportedly citing her lack of desire to run for the rest of Franken’s term as one of her benefits because that would leave a Democratic primary completely open. But that means that while a Democrat will take over, it will provide no electoral advantage in 2018. Even more frustratingly, appointing a woman with no intention of running in 2018 hurts female politicians in the state who would have run for the seat, undermining any advantage they may have received by being an incumbent, making it far more likely that the new party nominee will be male. Rather that proving that the DLF really wants this moment as an opportunity to make true change, the governor is offering lip service at best. This is a fact that even Franken himself appeared to address in his resignation speech, referring to the next senator of Minnesota as “her” when announcing his decision to step down. Hopefully, Dayton’s decision will change in the weeks before Franken officially leaves the Senate.

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Until Franken’s first term in 2009, Minnesota has always had at least one Republican in the Senate stretching back until the late 1970s. Considering the GOP’s strength in the state during midterm elections in general, as well as Donald Trump’s strong performance in the state in 2016, where he lost to Hillary Clinton by less than 2 points, to say that the open seat will be a battle is quite the understatement. At best, the race will drain significant resources that the party could have used elsewhere – at worst, it may well give Senate Republicans an even larger majority. Minnesotans as a whole are a community that loves fairness and hates conflict. It would not be surprising to see a number of voters look at two open seats on their ballots and think that the right thing to do is pick one person from each party to fill them. After all, we have a history of embracing split-ticket voting.

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National Democrats won’t be the only ones harmed, either. The Minnesota governor’s race is also in 2018 – an open seat as Dayton will be stepping down – and the previous lack of a competitive statewide race upticket was seen as possibly leading to lower voter turnout from Republicans, giving the DFL candidate a better shot at winning. Now that opportunity will be lost, too, as the GOP will be aggressively competing for this open Senate seat. Many Democrats were also hoping that this might be the year that the state finally elects its first female governor, and that may be an even more difficult task if 2016 is any indication. Clinton received the lowest percentage of votes in the state of any Democratic candidate in recent history, fallout from her poor performance among white male voters. That’s bad news for the three women currently running for the Democratic endorsement for governor.

Franken wasn’t called on to resign by fellow Democrats because it was an “easy” thing to do. In fact, it would have been in the best interest for both state and national Democrats from a legislative standpoint for him to retire at the end of his term, leaving an open seat for 2020 – a presidential election year. The reality is, however, that he needed to step down not because the political advantages outweighed the political harm – and let’s be clear, they definitely did not – but because it was the absolute right thing to do. It was the morally right action even if it harms Minnesota’s next election, even if it loses national Dems any ability to win a majority in the Senate, and even if the GOP never, ever addresses the alleged abuse, harassment, and predatory behavior in their own party in the same way. Even Franken himself recognized that fact, stating in his resignation speech that although he still denies some of the allegations, and remembers others very differently than his accusers, he understands that he must step down regardless in order to be a part of the change that our political system – and our country – needs. Even if, as he justifiably argued, “[T]here is some irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about a history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of the party.” (Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore denies the allegations against him, and the RNC renewed its financial backing of his candidacy this week.)

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Franken needed to resign for the good of the country, because at some point we have to say that we value women, and value their right to have the opportunity to live safe, comfortable, and prosperous lives just as men do. And that goes beyond any political party or election win.

Robin Marty is the co-author of Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Became the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That. Follow her on Twitter.

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