- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Democrats picked up a crucial vote for President Obama’s agenda in Congress as the Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously declared challenger Al Franken the winner over incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in their epic, eight-month legal battle for the Senate’s last vacancy.

Mr. Coleman’s decision not to appeal the ruling in federal court means the Senate Democratic caucus effectively controls the 60 votes needed to end filibusters and push through legislation. While strict party unity is rare in the chamber, the Franken win still could have huge implications for Mr. Obama’s agenda on issues such as health care, energy and labor law.

“It’s time for Minnesota to come together under the leaders it has chosen and move forward,” Mr. Coleman said at a news conference outside his home in St. Paul, Minn. “I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States senator, Al Franken.”

Mr. Franken, an author, comedian and one-time cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” told reporters in Minneapolis that he was “thrilled and honored by the faith that Minnesotans have placed in me” in his first run for public office.

He also tried to play down the momentous shift in power his election could mean for the Senate.

“The way I see it, I’m not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator. I’m going to Washington to be the second senator from the state of Minnesota, and that’s how I’m going to do this job,” Mr. Franken said.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, commended Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken for a “hard-fought campaign,” but expressed concern over the size of the Democratic majority.

“With their supermajority, the era of excuses and finger-pointing is now over,” he said. “With just 59 votes, Senate Democrats in recent months have passed trillion-dollar spending bills, driven up America’s debt, made every American taxpayer a shareholder in the auto industry and now want Washington to takeover America’s health care system. It’s troubling to think about what they might now accomplish with 60 votes.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Franken beat Mr. Coleman by 312 votes - out of more than 2.9 million cast - affirming a lower-court decision that Mr. Franken is entitled to a certificate of election.

Factoring in two independents who routinely vote with the Democrats and Sen. Arlen Specter, a former Republican from Pennsylvania who switched parties earlier this year, Senate Democrats can now theoretically block Republican stalling tactics in the Senate without needing a vote from the minority party.

White House officials were elated by the Minnesota result, and Mr. Obama welcomed Mr. Franken in a statement Tuesday.

“I look forward to working with Senator-elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century,” he said.

The news also relieves pressure on two ailing members of the Democratic caucus, veteran Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who have been forced to fly in on tight votes to ensure victory.

Initial election results from the Nov. 4 contest showed that Mr. Coleman defeated Mr. Franken by a razor-thin margin of 206 votes, triggering a statewide manual recount under state law.

The margin flipped to 225 votes in the Democrat’s favor after the state reviewed some absentee ballots that were found to be improperly rejected. Mr. Coleman challenged those results and a three-judge panel ordered that more ballots be counted. But that recount, concluded in April, gave Mr. Franken a victory margin of 312 votes.

In its 32-page ruling, the state Supreme Court said Mr. Coleman failed to show that state election officials were in error when they recounted the votes.

“We affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled … to receive the certificate of election as United States senator from the state of Minnesota,” the five justices said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hailed the decision as an end to months of legal wrangling.

“As we’ve seen over the past 238 days, no matter how many times Norm Coleman goes to court, the result of the election never changes: Al Franken earned more votes than Norm Coleman,” he said. “Al Franken was elected to the Senate, and he ought to be able to get to work for the people of Minnesota.”

Mr. Franken told reporters that he had already spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and his assignments will include the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Mr. Coleman did not comment on his future plans, though some have speculated he may be eyeing a gubernatorial bid. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican rumored to be a 2012 presidential contender, has said he won’t seek a third term in 2010.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for six months Minnesota’s lone senator, praised Mr. Coleman for standing by the court’s decision.

“I respect Norm Coleman for what I’m sure was a very difficult decision,” said Mrs. Klobuchar, a Democrat. “He had the right to pursue a legal appeal, but he chose to do the right thing for Minnesota.”

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