Minnesota voters: ‘Give us our senator’

By Tim Wheeler

Labor, peace and justice leaders in Minnesota hailed yesterday’s ruling by a three-judge panel that Democrat Al Franken won last fall’s race for the U.S. Senate, defeating incumbent Republican Norm Coleman by 312 votes.

But they expressed sharp anger that Coleman is defying the judges’ unanimous ruling and vowing to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court and even federal courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

These stalling tactics could keep Franken out of the Senate for months more.

Chad McKenna, AFL-CIO field coordinator in Duluth, Minn., told the World, “I think the people of Minnesota are fed up with it. It’s been five months since the election. The people want their senator seated. I don’t see how Coleman can think he can actually win this. The Republicans are just trying to drag this out as long as possible.”

The labor movement’s highest priority is the Employee Free Choice Act to make it easier for workers to win union representation, he said. “The Democratic leadership in the Senate has said they’re not going to take up EFCA until Franken is seated. So it’s part of the Republican strategy to keep Franken from taking his seat.”

Coleman’s legal team is headed by Ben Ginsberg, who helped mastermind the halt in the vote count in Florida in the 2000 election. The outcome then was finally decided when the U.S. Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House. This newspaper headlined it: “A very American coup.” Ginsberg and other Coleman lawyers have repeatedly cited “Bush v. Gore” in their arguments against seating Franken.

But the three-judge panel methodically shot down every argument presented by Coleman’s team, pointing out that a count of 351 absentee ballots widened Franken’s lead from 225 votes to 312 out of nearly 3 million ballots cast. The judges ruled that “Franken received the highest number of legally cast ballots” and is “entitled to receive the election certificate.”

Colleen Rowley, a Minnesotan who won fame as the FBI whistleblower who warned her superiors that Al-Qaeda terrorists were training at flight schools across the country months before Sept. 11, 2001, also voiced anger at Coleman’s moves.

“I was a strong Franken supporter from the beginning,” she said in a telephone interview. Franken should have been seated immediately pending the outcome of the ballot recount, she said. “Certainly now he should be seated. The Republicans are using the process in a tactical way to keep that one Democratic vote out of the Senate.”

She decried the “corrupting influence of big money,” with $50 million spent by both candidates in the election itself plus another $6 million in legal costs as Coleman attempts to overturn the result. “There is a solution, the bipartisan Fair Elections Now bill that moves in the direction of public financing of elections. It would take the special interest money out of our elections … the pharmaceuticals, oil, the military corporations.”

Rowley, who narrowly lost her bid for a seat in Congress in 2006, praised Franken’s “clear stand on workers’ rights.”

“He has always had that Wellstone outlook of being ‘for the little fella’,” she said. “I think Franken is the ‘real deal’ on these worker issues.”

Rowley spoke of the continuing 9/11 nightmare. “Eight years later we are still involved and paying for this ‘war on terror.’ Bush used 9/11 to launch two wars. You think 9/11 is over but it is still going on. We should seek common-sense ways of reducing terrorism around the world, but we increase the terrorism when we bomb civilians.”

She criticized elected officials from both parties who joined in a pro-war rally in Minneapolis supporting Israel’s siege of Gaza. Franken spoke at that rally, she said.

“From the peace community we want to send the message of the need to seek diplomatic and economic solutions, that get down to the root causes of violence and not rely on military means or bombing.”

Minnesota’s late Sen. Paul Wellstone, whose seat is at issue now, “voted against the Iraq war, the only senator running for reelection who had the courage to do that,” Rowley said. “I hope our newly elected Senator Franken has the courage” to follow in Wellstone’s footsteps.

Franken reacted to the judges’ ruling from his home in Minneapolis. “We didn’t fight hard simply because we wanted to win,” he said. “We fought hard because the American dream is slipping away for far too many working families in this state and around the country. The sooner I can get to work, the better.”