Klobuchar, Doing Two Jobs, Perseveres

Posted April 3, 2009 at 5:46pm

As the protracted Minnesota Senate seat battle between former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and comedian Al Franken (D) endures, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) perseveres.

Coleman since late December has pursued appeals contesting the results of the November election and subsequent recounts that have left Franken clinging to a 225-vote lead. Meanwhile, Klobuchar — with barely 27 months of Capitol Hill service under her belt — has pressed ahead with a heavy legislative workload while trying to handle a constituent caseload normally divided among two Senators.

“I’m hanging in there,— Klobuchar said late last week during a brief interview in the middle of a marathon voting session in the Senate. “I’m a mom, so I’m used to juggling several things at once. I stay optimistic.—

Coleman last Tuesday was handed a legal setback, leading Senate Democrats to speculate that the time when Franken would be seated was drawing near. A three-judge state panel ruled that only as many as 400 of the 1,350 rejected absentee ballots that Coleman wanted added to the election tally would be considered for counting.

But Coleman, citing his disagreement with this and other decisions delivered by the panel, is already planning to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Additionally, Republicans close to Coleman, as well as Senate GOP leaders, have suggested that an appeal in federal court could also be an option.

That could create a scenario that would lead to Minnesota going without a second Senator for the next several months, and it would put Klobuchar on track to break the modern-day record for being a state’s sole Senate representative. Former Sen. Thomas McIntyre (D-N.H.), who served as his state’s sole Senator for more than seven months in 1975, holds the modern record.

“Sen. Klobuchar has worked tirelessly to do everything two Senators would do, and Minnesotans should be extremely proud and forever grateful,— said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In publicizing her hope that the fight over Minnesota’s vacant Senate seat be resolved as quickly as possible, Klobuchar, 48, has veered away from sounding overtly political.

Obviously a Franken supporter, Klobuchar described last Tuesday’s decision by the three-judge panel as “good news— for Franken, but she added: “I believe Norm Coleman has the right to pursue his appeals. I just hope it’s resolved soon.—

The Senator has been somewhat critical of Senate Republican leaders, who have threatened to filibuster any attempt to seat Franken before Coleman exhausts his legal options. Senate Republicans contend that their only goal is to ensure the full enfranchisement of all Minnesota voters.

Klobuchar last week took issue with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who has argued that getting the race resolved fairly and accurately is more important than rushing to certify a winner so that the North Star State can have full representation in the chamber.

Klobuchar argued during an MSNBC interview that the matter should be resolved by Minnesotans and the Minnesota courts, and that Washington should not get involved.

Cornyn “said that we could go in Minnesota with one Senator for years. And I would love to know how Texas would like that. I think that Minnesota would prefer to make its own decisions,— Klobuchar said.

At least some Democrats were glad to see Klobuchar get political.

“We were very appreciative of her recent comments on this,— said one Democratic operative based in Washington, D.C. “There’s no better messenger— for the Democratic position on the recount than Klobuchar.

Coleman led Franken by about 700 votes the day after the Nov. 4 election. The narrow margin triggered state-mandated automatic recounts, after which Franken ended up 225 votes ahead. Coleman’s first Senate term expired when the 110th Congress ended, creating the vacancy.

Although the DSCC’s Schultz described Senate Republicans as “obstructionists— who are holding Minnesota’s seat “hostage,— both Coleman and his Senate Republican colleagues have said the issue is about fairness and an accurate accounting of the election.

“Both parties would like to see this election resolved as quickly as possible,— NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “Throughout this process the consistent message from Sen. Cornyn and his Republican colleagues has been that Minnesota’s election laws should be followed.—

Klobuchar, a county prosecutor before winning an open Senate seat in 2006, said the absence of a seatmate hasn’t necessarily affected her work inside the Senate chamber. Where it has mattered most, she said, is in constituent services.

Klobuchar said her office is handling “double the caseload— of time-consuming and labor-intensive work such as helping Minnesota military veterans navigate the federal government bureaucracy and aiding Social Security recipients with their problems.

To handle the increased workload, Klobuchar and her staff have increased by about 30 percent the number of meetings with constituents, while about six times as many phone calls are coming in compared to this point last year, according to figures provided by the Senator’s office. Her office is operating with no additional staff.

“The biggest impact has been on the work at home,— Klobuchar said, when asked how Minnesota’s vacant Senate seat has affected her professionally.

In the 19th century, Senate seats would regularly go vacant for a two-year period — an entire Congress. Back then, state legislatures elected Senators, not the population at large, and the state governing bodies would often deadlock over which Senate candidate to send to Washington.

But since Senators began being popularly elected, the longest vacancy has belonged to New Hampshire.

In 1974, a tight race caused both Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin to be certified by the state as winners. After trying from January through July 1975 to resolve the matter — including supervising its own recount — the Senate declared the seat vacant and a new election was called.

On Aug. 8, New Hampshire’s governor appointed former Sen. Norris Cotton (R) to hold the seat in the interim. He served through Sept. 17, when Durkin, the winner of the new election, took office. Durkin served for only one term.