Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced on Wednesday that his lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, will replace Senator Al Franken. Dayton made the announcement in a Wednesday morning press conference. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Smith will run in a special election for the seat in 2018, as Franken’s term was slated to last until 2020.
Dayton said that Smith, a Democrat, "will be a senator of whom all Minnesotans can be proud." Smith is taking the Senate seat after Franken resigned due to allegations that he harassed and inappropriately touched women.
In the wake of the allegations, fellow Democrats urged Franken to resign. A chorus of prominent female senators, including Kamala Harris, Claire McCaskill, and Kirsten Gillibrand released statements in early December that elected officials "should be held to the highest standards—not the lowest."
Just one day later, Franken heeded the calls, announcing on the Senate floor that he would resign in the coming weeks. In his statement, Franken stated that some of the accusations leveled against him were "simply not true." The Minnesota Democrat (and Saturday Night Live alum) also compared his situation to the President of the United States, calling out the "irony" of "leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party."
As Franken notes, Trump himself has been accused of a a pattern of sexual assault and harassment by more than a dozen women, though he has made clear he has no intentions of resigning. Some of Franken's congressional colleagues — Democratic Michigan Representative John Conyers and Republican Arizona Representative Trent Franks — have recently stepped down due to sexual misconduct allegations.
The Republican Party's Senate majority won't be affected by Franken's replacement, though Democrats did gain a seat following Tuesday night’s special election in Alabama. Speaking during Wednesday's press conference, Smith said that she was hopeful she would be able to complete Franken's term. “It is up to Minnesotans to decide for themselves who they want to complete Sen. Franken’s term," she said. "I will run in that election."
The announcement of Smith as Franken's replacement was welcome by those who said the governor needed to appoint a woman as a symbolic rebuke of the allegations. Smith is much more than a symbol, though, offering years of experience in politics. She has served as Minnesota Lieutenant Governor since 2015, prior to which she served as chief of staff for Governor Dayton from 2011 until 2015. She's also a strong proponent of a woman's right to choose, having previously worked as a vice president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. On Wednesday, Dayont said Smith stands "first and foremost among" the many public officials with whom he's worked over the years.
In addition to supporting abortion rights, Smith has made clear her support of a litany of issues likely to be at the forefront of Congress over the coming months, including the DREAM Act and affordable healthcare plans. Her selection makes clear that Dayton has confidence Smith will be more than a temporary fill-in, as she'll have to face voters to continue the remainder of Franken's term.
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio a week before Smith was named as Franken's replacement, Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party chair Ken Martin praised Smith as "probably the best lieutenant governor our state has ever seen. She's a true public servant who's served this state in many roles." Martin added that she would a "brilliant choice" as Franken's replacement.