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'No one I trust more' than Lt. Gov. Smith in U.S.Senate, Dayton says

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith tells reporters on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, that she will run for U.S. Senate after her nearly year-long appointment ends next year. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
With her family on one side and Gov. Mark Dayton on the other, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith accepts Dayton's appointment of her to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL -- Mrs. Smith is going to Washington.

"This is an extraordinary moment," Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Wednesday, Dec. 13, after accepting a gubernatorial appointment to replace U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

She added that that although she plans to run for public office alone for the first time next year, "I shouldn't be underestimated. And if I weren’t confident, I wouldn’t be doing this."

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith and announced it during a press conference, saying she is the best person for the job.

"There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office," Dayton said.

Since minutes after the first word that Franken was accused of sexual misconduct on Nov. 16, those who follow Minnesota politics said Smith probably would be picked if Franken resigned. He announced last week that he would quit as the eighth woman came forward with sexual misconduct accusations.

Smith will hold the office until after next November's election, which is bound to attract a flock of Republicans and maybe other Democrats, too. Smith said she will run next year for the remaining two years of Franken's term.

Franken has not said just when he will step down, but Smith said she expects that to come in early January.

The November 2018 election will draw national attention to Minnesota as the U.S. Senate will have 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats after Democrat Doug Jones won an Alabama special election Tuesday.

Franken and Smith are Democrats.

Smith's only campaign was as Dayton's running mate in 2014. She has spent most of her career in marketing and behind the scenes in politics.

"Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward," Smith said.

While most lieutenant governors seldom have been seen in the public, Smith has done Dayton's bidding around Minnesota. In recent weeks, for instance, she has appeared at events promoting a fight against opioid abuse and in favor of expanding a state health insurance program.

Minnesota Democrats, including Franken and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, praised Dayton's decision.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the lieutenant governor from Minneapolis will be good to his western Minnesota district. "I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Lt. Gov. Smith over the years and she has always been attentive to issues important to greater Minnesota."

But not everyone agrees. Republicans especially have expressed concerns about Smith's time as an executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"As a passionate pro-life mom and legislator, I’m deeply disappointed that Minnesota’s next U.S. senator will be someone who has such a profound disregard for the sanctity of life," state Rep.Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said. "Given her previous work as a high-ranking leader of Planned Parenthood, Tina Smith’s hostile views toward the protection of the unborn are severely out of touch with the values of voters in greater Minnesota."

Franken's resignation means both Minnesota U.S. Senate seats will be on next year's ballot.

Klobuchar has attracted one Republican opponent so far, but she remains the odds-on favorite as most polls show her MInnesota's most popular politician.

Republicans see an opportunity to pick up the Franken seat in next year's election, given the fact that Smith remains a relative unknown with just four years in the public eye.

Among politicians being courted by many in the GOP is former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who although saying he is "politically retired" has sounded much like a candidate in a series of Minnesota speeches, on social media and on some national interview shows. Since leaving the governor's office when Dayton replaced him in 2011, Pawlenty has been a Washington lobbyist for the financial industry, but maintains his Minnesota home.

Pawlenty is far from the only Republican prospect, with state Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary's Point one who has said in public she is considering the race.

Smith, 59, took herself out of the next governor's race early this year.

She was Dayton's chief of staff during his first four-year term, then became his running mate in the 2014 election, replacing first-term Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon.

Smith is a New Mexico native and received degrees from Stanford University and Dartmouth College. She and her husband, Archie, have two sons.

She moved to Minnesota in the 1980s for a General Mills marketing job.

Smith also has run her own marketing firm and was MInneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's chief of staff before joining Dayton's office.

She was a leader of former Vice President Walter Mondale's 2002 U.S. Senate campaign when he replaced then-Sen. Paul Wellstone after he died in an airplane crash days before the election.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.