After eight months and $50 million dollars, today’s unanimous decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court declaring Al Franken the winner in his Senate race against Norm Coleman could be the first step toward ending the longest Senate vacancy in 34 years. But before Senate Democrats and liberal bloggers crow too loud over their oh-so-close filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, a few things to keep in mind….
First, even if Franken is seated, he will not make for a particularly crisp #60. Though no one wants to say it, it is not clear that Sen. Ted Kennedy will ever vote again in the Senate, given his medical condition. Massachusetts lawmakers are already quietly jockeying for his seat. A replacement senator in Massachusetts needs to be chosen by the electorate (the governor has no role), which could mean weeks, even months, for primary and general election campaigns to be conducted. Meanwhile, after a month in the hospital, Sen. Robert Byrd was released today to continue his recovery at home, but the 91-year-old remains in delicate health.
Even if senators always voted party-line, which they don’t, it takes 60 senators present and voting to vote cloture. Democrats aren’t there yet.
While the verdict for Franken is a victory for Democrats, in many ways the GOP stall has had its intended effect. It is a public-relations accomplishment: They’ve managed to blur the likely result of the 2008 election, casting doubt on the circumstances under which Democrats have come to dominance in the Senate. That’s not a trivial accomplishment during these early months when a new president’s political capital is at its peak.
While there will be plenty of hand-ringing over how Republicans have hurt the state by drawing out a race Minnesotans wanted to be over long ago, nothing has been irreparably damaged by this extended vacancy. It isn't like Gov. Sanford disappearing for a few days. Executives really do run things. Senators don't. While it’s unfortunate that senior Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office has had to pick up the slack, the Democrats in the Senate haven’t lost any roll call result through the absence of a Franken vote.
More than anything, this prolonged partisan battle has been a headache for a state that’s famous for its friendly demeanor and squeaky-clean politics. It’s been an oft-repeated refrain in the last eight months, but it’s still true today: We’ll have to wait and see (though hopefully not for too much longer).
Marie Diamond is a Prospect summer 2009 intern.