When I voted for Al Franken in 2008, I did so with one hand holding my nose. I am a progressive and almost always vote that way. But, like many others, when I saw Franken's name on the ballot I saw Stuart Smalley and the TV reporter with the satellite dish on his head and a dozen other characters the comedian played on Saturday Night Live.
Having lived through the wasted Jesse Ventura-as-governor era in Minnesota, I wasn't sure another entertainer is what I wanted for my U.S. Senator. Was Franken going to be serious enough? Was he going to use the office, as Ventura used the governorship, to promote and enrich himself? Was Franken going to embarrass my beloved home state? Those were the questions I had. But, given the other choices on the ballot that day, I filled in the oval box next to Franken's name at my polling location in Oakport Township's town hall and hoped for the best. Franken won, in one of the closest elections in state history.
Sen. Al Franken
Nearly six years later, I will admit it: My fears about Franken were unfounded. Completely. Not only has Franken not embarrassed Minnesota, he's proven himself a pragmatic and professional senator focused on issues that matter. Much like the state's senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, Franken has avoided the hyperpartisan bickering suffocating Washington, D.C., and focused on issues that matter. He's centered on issues on which he can work with the other side of the aisle.
Franken has represented Minnesota well.
And it has infuriated Republicans and conservatives.
A new Minnesota poll released over the weekend shows Franken with a 55 percent statewide job-approval rating. It is up 4 percent from a poll conduted in June. The numbers are not all rosy. Franken's disapproval ratings also climbed, from 29 percent to 34 percent. His re-election in November is not certain and won't be until the day after the election, if he is fortunate enough to prevail over an as-yet-undetermined Republican opponent.
But Franken stands a pretty good chance, something very few people saw coming after his razor-thin victory over Norm Coleman in '08.
Republicans spent the entire 2008 campaign telling Minnesotans how Franken was a walking, talking joke and how he wasn't cut from U.S. Senator cloth because he was a comedian, actor, satirist -- everything but a serious, policy-driven statesman. That has proven entirely wrong -- Franken is, indeed, a very serious senator -- and they can't seem to wrap their minds around that.
A commentary piece written in the Star Tribune by Republican activist Annette Meeks ("Counterpoint: Another view of the 'real' (partisan) Al Franken") tried to paint the senator as a wild-eyed liberal who only seems likes he's doing well because expectations for him were so low. Like all Republicans, she is trying her hardest to use Franken's support of President Obama's signature health-care law as an anchor.
No question, Franken supported the Affordable Care Act. He will spend much of the upcoming campaign outlining why it was important to move forward on health care.
But, predictably, Republicans are missing what has made Franken so popular, even among those who didn't expect much. It wasn't the low bar that was set, it's been that Franken has been a leader on issues that affect average, everyday Americans. He is not an idealogue. He is not Ted Cruz, a bomb-throwing attention-seeker. Franken has fought (and won) against pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street while also taking on issues such as privacy, technology, sexual harrassment, campaign contributions (think: Citizens United), strengthening relationships between the private sector and community colleges.
These are not talk-show worthy topics that will get Franken's face on national TV. They will not have people screaming at each other over morning coffee at the local cafe. But they matter because they are real issues that affect people's lives. Franken's issues are not divisive idealogical dogma.
Franken went to Washington to work. He's done that. Certainly there will be people who disagree with his political views; that's the way the world works. But to try to paint Franken as anything other than a serious policy wonk who has stayed away from D.C. partisanship is disengenous.
Of course, Republicans were wrong the first time around on Franken, so that they'd be wrong again is no surprise.
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