Who Is Tina Smith? If Al Franken Resigns, Minnesota's Lieutenant Governor Could Be A Perfect Replacement
Amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, Senate Democrats have called on Sen. Al Franken to step aside. Minnesota's junior senator hasn't signaled that he plans to do so, but he is set to make an announcement Thursday morning that some expect will serve as his resignation. If Franken does give up his seat, Minnesota's female lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, could reportedly replace Franken in Washington.
If a Minnesota Senate seat is suddenly left vacant, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, will be tasked with filling it until a special election can take place next year. Democratic members of Minnesota's congressional delegation — POLITICO specifically named Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, though acknowledged that the latter is pursuing the position of governor — were floated as possible replacements, but moving someone from the House to the Senate still leaves an open seat in Congress. Appointing Smith would both avoid a musical chairs situation in Washington, and serve as a powerful symbol of women ousting accused sexual predators.
Eight women have accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior, including forcibly kissing and groping them. Although the senator issued an apology in response to the first accusation and has denied the latest allegations, a handful of his colleagues called for him to resign on Wednesday. Franken claimed he had not yet made a decision as rumors swirled this week.
Before becoming lieutenant governor, Smith served as Gov. Dayton's chief of staff, and their close working relationship is part of the reason she's expected to replace Franken, should he step aside. Her presence in the Senate would not only increase female representation (there are currently just 21 female senators), but her record indicates that she would champion issues important to American women.
On top of her long career in politics, Smith previously held leadership positions at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. "She really built our education and outreach efforts," Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of the region's Planned Parenthood office, told the Star Tribune in 2015. "She's got a pretty strong legacy around here."
Smith left Planned Parenthood in 2006 to get more involved in politics, but she still spoke out about the need for Planned Parenthood's health services when Minnesota Republicans were pushing to cut the organization's state funding in 2015.
Planned Parenthood — and women's health care in general — continue to be under attack in Congress. A measure that would have paved the way for establishing fetal personhood was just scrapped from the GOP tax bill for violating a procedural rule; the GOP's failed healthcare bills sought to defund Planned Parenthood; and the Trump administration has made birth control coverage optional for employers — so, it's always a good time to add another woman to the Senate.
Outside of health care, Smith has signaled that she opposes the proposed tax bill that would raise taxes for many millennial and low-income women and supports legislation that would allow Dreamers to stay in the country.
Having female representation in Congress is crucial to passing legislation that is in women's best interests, and Smith joining the ranks of the Senate would mean one more person fighting to protect women's right. Whoever takes over Franken's seat would only hold the position for a year, but a lot can happen in a year (an arduous lesson 2017 has taught all of us).
Of course, the circumstances surrounding Franken's potential resignation would make the appointment of a female replacement that much more cathartic — even former President Obama said recently the nation should elect more women because "men seem to be having problems."