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Franken-Coleman Update, 03/26/09: When the Irish Ruled Saint Paul

Top o’ the Normin’ to Ya!

Top o’ the Normin’ to Ya!

WineRev tips us off to this great piece by MinnPost’s Jay Weiner about a foine Oirish-American gent named Terry O’Toole, a longtime DFLer (the Minnesota brand of Democrat) and a living link to the time, not so long ago, when the Irish ruled Saint Paul.  Said Mr. O’Toole, a broth of a boy at 87, was part of Karl Rolvaag’s campaign in 1962, when the closely-contested election and recount resulted in the election laws that govern the Franken-Coleman contest of the present day.  

Mr. O’Toole has been attending the Coleman contest trial, as he has a special interest in doing so:  "I was in at Coleman’s political birth," O’Toole said Tuesday, sitting in his St. Paul home. "I wanted to be in at Coleman’s political death."

You see, Gentle Reader, Norm Coleman began his political life as a Democrat, because it was only as a Democrat that he could be elected to any post in Saint Paul, Minnesota’s capital city and a DFL stronghold.   However, he wasn’t advancing up the ranks as fast as he would have liked — being the mayor of Saint Paul at an early stage in his career wasn’t good enough for him — and so in 1996, three years after winning the mayor’s office, he switched parties, and lost Terry O’Toole’s friendship.

Norm managed to use the power of incumbency, the generally-good economic conditions of the 1990s, and a weak Democratic opponent to keep his mayoral seat, but his eyes were on higher things.  He ran for governor in 1998 and lost in a three-way race to Jesse Ventura; he then caught the national Republican party’s collective eyes, especially those belonging to the folks in the Bush-Rove-Cheney wing, who told the local Republicans to run him for Senate in 2002 against the incumbent, Paul Wellstone of blessed memory.  (The local party’s favorite for the Senate, Smilin’ Tim Pawlenty, had to settle for the governorship.)  He was on the verge of losing to Wellstone when the fatal plane crash intervened; that, and orchestrated GOP/Media attacks on the DFL over the Wellstone memorial event at Williams Arena, gave Coleman the seat.   It also provided the impetus for Al Franken, disgusted beyond measure at the lies and smears used to attack the Williams Arena event, to begin his own political career.

Back to the present:  Remember how I said yesterday that it looks like Norm’s lawyers may have sat him down and explained that once the Minnesota Supreme Court snuffs his appeal, he can’t stop the Minnesota Soops from ordering up a signed election certificate for Al Franken?  Well, it looks very much like Smilin’ Tim, who as governor has to sign that certificate along with the Secretary of State, is starting to openly admit he’s going to be doing so soon.  Check this out:

State law bars a Senate candidate from being issued an election certificate during an election contest. An election certificate is a de facto prerequisite for seating in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court signaled, but was not explicit, that a certificate should be issued to the victor once state court appeals are through.

That’s how Secretary of State Mark Ritchie reads the court’s decision and the law, the Democrat said Wednesday.

Pawlenty, a Republican, left himself a little wiggle room on that front.

"I will sign the election certificate when the law requires me to do so. We’re going to follow the law and the courts’ orders in this regard but we are not going to jump ahead of the court process," he said.

Of course, T-Paw immediately followed up by saying that a Federal court could possibly issue a stay that would prevent the issuance of an election certificate.  But, as the election-law experts that MinnPost’s Eric Black consulted have noted, that’s a serious long shot: 

…Once the case leaves the Minnesota court system, it has to be based on federal claims, like Team Coleman’s famous "equal protection" argument. ("Equal protection is langugage in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Coleman has been arguing that the disparities in ballot-counting practices between different Minnesota counties creates an equal protection problem. That logic was an important part of the reason that the Supreme Court got involved in the Florida 2000 recount in the famous Bush v. Gore case.) But those federal law considerations would not directly affect whether the state of Minnesota issues a certificate of election.

Terry O’Toole, foine Oirish lawyer that he is, is aware of this, I’m sure. Which may well be one reason why his Irish eyes are smiling as he witnesses what he is sure will be Norm Coleman’s political death.

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