ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday morning appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill outgoing U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s seat, which is up for grabs next year, amid pressure from Democrats to choose someone who will run in the special election.
Smith, a Democrat like Dayton and Franken who is the governor’s confidant and trusted former chief of staff, will campaign to keep the seat in the 2018 election.
“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability. There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office. I know that she will be a superb senator, representing the best interests of our state and our citizens,” Dayton said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
A special election will be held next November to decide who will serve the remainder of Franken’s term through 2020.
“I will run in that election and I will do my best to earn Minnesotans' support,” Smith said at the news conference.
Dayton told reporters that he selected Smith because he wanted someone who planned on running in the special election.
Franken announced his resignation last week after eight women accused him of unwanted sexual advances.
The first to come forward was Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden, who said last month that Franken tried to forcibly kiss her during a USO tour in Afghanistan a decade ago. A prank photo also showed Franken appearing to grab Tweeden’s breast area while she was sleeping in a flak jacket and helmet.
Others claimed unwanted touching of their butts and midriffs while taking photos with Franken.
Smith, 59, is a native of Albuquerque, N.M., who moved to Minnesota in 1984 for a job in marketing at General Mills. She was elected Minnesota's lieutenant governor in 2015.
Before that, she served as Gov. Dayton's chief of staff and worked in the same role for former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak from 2006 through 2010. During this time, she collaborated with the administration of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota's congressional delegation to work on rebuilding the 35-W Mississippi River bridge after it collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
Smith graduated from Sanford University and earned an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
"I accept this appointment, and it will be my great honor to serve Minnesota as United States senator," Smith said Wednesday. "Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do anything I can to move Minnesota forward. I will be a fierce advocate in the United States for economic opportunity and fairness.”
Smith avoided directly answering a question on whether she believed there should be an investigation into President Donald Trump or that he should resign because of the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
"I will be focusing the next couple weeks on getting ready to become senator and I'm not going to get into the discussion that is going on in Washington right now,” she said. “But I do want to say, though, that sexual harassment is disrespectful to people and it cannot be tolerated. We're in the middle of a sea change of attitude. I think in some part this sea change is led by young women who tell women of my generation that some of things we've put up in during our lives, we shouldn't have to put up with. And that it is a good thing, and it's so important that we don't slide backward and instead move forward."
Rebecca Esehai, 74, of Lakeville, with her husband, said of the Senate appointment, "I'm sure Gov. Dayton did the best he could do and he believes in what he has done. He loves Minnesota and the people of Minnesota. He's our governor and I'm very proud of him."
"I just hope she is honest and she really cares about her people," said a 63-year-old woman named Mary, who lives in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul and was walking her pooch named Rosco on Wednesday. "It just seems that no one is really paying attention to the struggles of single mothers, the elderly and low-income people, and instead are cutting budgets."
Mary admitted she did not know much about Smith, but said, "I just sure hope we get good people in there."
Smith plans to continue to work with Franken's staff during the transition. Franken said last Thursday that he will resign "in the coming weeks," but has not yet set a departure date.
Smith, like Franken did in his resignation speech, chose on Wednesday to quote the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone: "We all do better when we all do better."
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