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Minnesotans React To Sen. Al Franken's Decision To Resign

Dec 7, 2017
Originally published on December 7, 2017 7:38 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Washington, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken announced he will leave the Senate in the coming weeks. He was pressured to resign by fellow Democrats who said multiple allegations of sexual misconduct could no longer be ignored. Franken says serving in the Senate has been the honor of his life.

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AL FRANKEN: Even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it's all been worth it.

KELLY: Brian Bakst of Minnesota Public Radio reports it is a colossal fall for Franken, whose political stock had been on the rise.

BRIAN BAKST, BYLINE: Al Franken came into the U.S. Senate in a cloud of controversy and is leaving under one as well. He entered the Senate in 2009 after an election that was decided by 312 votes, a protracted recount and a court battle. The former comedian, "Saturday Night Live" cast member and bomb-throwing radio host settled into a new role as a policy wonk and liberal hero. By 2014, Franken cruised to a second term.

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FRANKEN: Thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on me six years ago.

(CHEERING)

FRANKEN: And thank you for giving me the chance to keep working for you in Washington.

BAKST: After the 2016 election, Franken relished being a thorn in the side of the Trump administration. Then last month, it all started crashing down. Franken was accused of inappropriate behavior toward women. In all, eight women described incidents mostly from before he was a senator. At first, Franken was apologetic but became dismissive as new allegations emerged. In resigning, he said the accounts of women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. But...

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FRANKEN: Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.

BAKST: Back home, the news of his resignation hit supporters hard. Democrat Emily Gilmore watched Franken's speech at a food court in downtown Minneapolis. She says Franken did what he had to do.

EMILY GILMORE: I think he did things he's probably not proud of. And I don't think we want someone representing us who has those allegations against him - and, quite frankly, probably wouldn't be resigning if there wasn't truth in them.

BAKST: At the student union on the University of Minnesota's Duluth campus, it was quiet as the senator spoke. Bella Maki is the vice president of the College Democrats there. She hoped Franken would run for president one day.

BELLA MAKI: I was heartbroken. I shed a couple tears. And it's really unfortunate. Just - I agreed with his politics and the agenda he, like, tried to push and oftentimes succeeded. So I'm very saddened.

BAKST: Franken says he won't fade away.

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FRANKEN: Let me be clear. I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen and as an activist.

BAKST: There's also intrigue about who replaces Franken. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton will name his temporary successor. Dayton is a former senator himself but says he hasn't decided on who will step in but will within days. So Democrats will hold the seat for now, but there will be a special election in November 2018. Democratic consultant Todd Rapp says it's a problem for Democrats. They already had to defend two dozen Senate seats next year, including the other Minnesota seat.

TODD RAPP: It complicates things because this is clearly going to be a very competitive seat in a state that already had a governor's race and as many as five congressional races which are going to be close.

BAKST: Rapp says the saving grace is that next year's election is shaping up to be a referendum on President Trump in a state he couldn't win last year. For NPR News, I'm Brian Bakst in St. Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE SONG, "CAREFULLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.