Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced Wednesday that he has chosen Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace Al Franken in the Senate. Smith also plans to run in a special election next year to serve out the rest of Franken’s term, which lasts until 2020, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Franken, who announced his resignation Thursday after mounting calls for him to step down following sexual misconduct allegations, has not said exactly when he will be leaving, but Smith, 59, has said she will likely take office in early January. When she takes Franken’s seat, it will be the first time in the state’s history Minnesota will have two female senators.
In Smith, the Democratic governor selected “one of his most trusted advisers,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Smith, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, helped with Dayton’s campaign bid and became his first chief of staff. Before then, she had served as chief of staff for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback and managed his failed gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
Smith, who is originally from New Mexico and attended Stanford University, also worked at General Mills, a job that brought her and her family to Minnesota in the 1980s, and later founded a marketing and public relations firm. Through the firm, she worked as an adviser to Walter Mondale’s failed 2002 Senate campaign. She went on to work for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota as the vice president of public affairs.
According to the Star Tribune, many had thought Smith would herself run for governor at one point. “In recent years, Smith has become nearly as much the face of the administration as Dayton himself and has transformed the often obscure role of lieutenant governor,” the Tribune writes.
According to the Washington Post, Smith “promised to serve in the progressive tradition of others who have held the seat, including Sens. Paul Wellstone, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale.”
The Post reports that Dayton made his decision without consulting anyone outside his state’s delegation except Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He said Schumer did not suggest any names.
The special election to fill Franken’s seat for the rest of his term will likely be a hotly contested one and the focus of national attention. Franken’s seat will be one of 26 that Democrats will defend next year.
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