Speculation is at a fever pitch regarding who Governor Dayton should select to replace Al Franken as US Senator. There are many contending interest groups, constituencies, and factors that are being articulated. But at the end of the day if the goal of Dayton and the Minnesota DFL is to pick someone who can win and hold the set in 2018, then State Senator Melisa Franzen is his best choice.
There is no correct criteria or criterion that should drive or determine Dayton’s choice to replace Franken. There are many competing factors. Should it be someone who will be able to win in 2018, or should it be a caretaker, someone not interested in running for fear that if Dayton politicizes the choice it runs the risk of a rerun of the 1978 Minnesota Massacre when Governor Anderson effectively chose himself to replace Senator Mondale who resigned to become vice-president. That decision 40 years ago led to both US senate races being won by Republicans, as well as the Governor’s race and the loss of the state legislature. It is unlikely that such a scenario will reoccur, unless the DFL is so self-serving that it backfires.
Others are arguing that given the reasons why Franken is stepping down (allegations of sexual impropriety), the choice has to be a woman. Others say it is not just a woman, but a woman of color. Or perhaps it should be someone of color, regardless of gender. Or maybe it should be someone who can raise the millions of dollars it will require to win. Or maybe it requires someone who can hit the ground running when taking office so that the person can dive into the complex policies issues he or she will face. Or maybe it should be someone who represents the future of the DFL in the state, or someone who will satisfy other state political criteria.
Conversely, there are some in Washington, D.C., who are pressing perhaps for other national factors to be considered. Listening to Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would be a mistake. For Speaker of the US House Tip O’Neill once said: “All politics is local.” Never forget that. The Democrats nationally and the DFL in Minnesota err in going with cookie-cutter approaches to politics and that is why they lose. Those in Washington are clueless to what drives Minnesota politics.
I still remember back in 2002 when Wellstone died. I did a ton of interviews and was asked who the DFL should pick to replace him and I said Judy Dutcher. She had run for governor and was pushed away with an appeal to seniority and that it was Roger Moe who deserved it. That worked out well. However in one interview with the Wall Street Journal a reporter–less than an hour after Wellstone died–told me the Washington consensus was it had to be Walter Mondale. That worked out well–picking an aging politician who represented that Minnesota of the past.
So who should Dayton pick? Assume first that you want someone who can win in 2018. Second, pick someone who is young and represents the future of the party. Third, pick someone who has come from a swing district and proven to be able to raise money and appeal to swing voters. Fourth, pick someone who is not white, acknowledging that the future of Minnesota is multi-cultural. Finally, pick someone who is a good speaker, who appeals to suburban women (a critical swing demographic), and who is a smart and quick study. Put them all together and the choice is State Senator Melisa Franzen.
I am not endorsing anyone and have no influence in the DFL or with Mark Dayton in terms of who should be selected. However Senator Franzen is a two-term Minnesota Senator who is from Puerto Rico. She is young, comes from an affluent swing district in Minnesota, and who meets all the criteria above. I have been at several forums (such as the Edina League of Women Voters) where both of us were speakers. She is personable, a terrific speaker, and smart. In my opinion, she would be a great selection for Dayton and should be given serious consideration.