A three-judge panel on April 7th opened about 400 absentee ballots in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman race for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota, still undecided five months after the Nov. 4 election. When the judges finished counting, Franken had widened his lead over the incumbent Republican from 225 votes to 312 votes.

The court ordered the ballots returned to the Minnesota Secretary of State to be counted. The judges are expected to then declare Franken the winner.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said, “When you contest the results of an election and you lose ground, you ought to know time is up. The people have spoken and now that the courts have spoken, Norm Coleman ought to let the process of seating a Senator go forward.”

It made no difference to Coleman and the national Republican Party. Coleman’s attorney, Ben Ginsberg, told the judges Coleman will appeal and appeal again.

Ginsberg is seasoned in the “tricks of the trade,” a top legal strategist in the Republican theft of the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush. Ginsberg said Coleman will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. If he loses there, he is expected to appeal in the federal courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minnesota’s Republican Governor, Tim Pawlenty who must decide whether or not to certify Franken the winner, signaled that he is in the GOP stonewall camp when he said it could be “months” before Minnesota has its second Senator seated in Washington.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is advising Coleman to keep on appealing to higher courts. He opines that it will take “years” to resolve the issue.

The drive to deny Franken a seat is seen as part of the corporate
right-wing drive to block President Obama’s agenda and specifically to block the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the labor movement’s highest priority legislation. The EFCA, which allows workers to win union recognition when a majority sign union cards, is endorsed by Obama and majorities in both the House and Senate. The Republican right is pinning its hopes for blocking EFCA on the Senate where a supermajority of 60 is needed to end Republican filibusters.

Seating Franken, a staunch supporter of EFCA, would bring the Democratic majority in the Senate to 59.

The Republican strategy is to peel off wavering Senators to keep the pro-EFCA bloc below 60. Thus, Wal-Mart, a vicious enemy of Employee Free Choice and headquartered in Arkansas, targeted Arkansas’s Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln who caved in and announced she would vote against EFCA “as currently written.”
Wal-Mart even hired Lincoln’s former chief of staff, Kelly Bingel, for the specific purpose of wooing Lincoln to come out against EFCA.
Wal-Mart Watch reports that a former staff worker of Sen. Mark Pryor, the other Democratic Senator from Arkansas, has been hired by the Podesta Group, to lobby for Wal-Mart against EFCA. Sen. Pryor would be the obvious target of his former staffer, Walter Pryor (no relation).

The AFL-CIO has redoubled its grassroots campaign while Congress is in its spring recess, with visits to lawmakers’ home offices, picketlines, and phone banking to urge them to support EFCA.