Big business blocks working family bills by keeping Frankens Senate seat vacant

Original source:

It’s April 2009 and we’re still checking back in to see who won in Minnesota’s hard-fought 2008 Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman and AFL-CIO-endorsed challenger Al Franken—because corporate front groups are dumping money into delaying and dragging out the process.

When last we visited Minnesota, the state was just beginning to recount the votes in the excruciatingly close race. The recount was an exhaustive, transparent process, with every step open to the public and examined closely by Minnesota’s judiciary. And this week, a three-judge panel—in a 68-page decision issued after extensive consideration—ruled that Franken “received the highest number of votes legally cast” and is “entitled to receive a certificate of election.”

Yet Franken can’t be seated, because ex-Sen. Coleman is planning to appeal to the Minnesota state Supreme Court. Although election-law experts suggest that Coleman’s arguments are unlikely to have any more effect on the state Supreme Court than they did in front of judges from around the state who have heard them throughout this long process, Coleman is still keeping his team of lawyers busy and well-paid. And who’s paying for those mounting legal bills? The same corporate front groups bankrolling the fight against the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports that Coleman’s cronies—a coalition of deep-pocketed corporate lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW)—are willing to “raise as much as necessary” to keep Coleman’s lawyers going and bankroll his attempts to overturn the judges’ ruling that Franken is the winner.

It’s clear what’s underlying this: Franken ran—and won—as a friend to working families and a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act. Franken, a former member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Screen Actors (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America, campaigned alongside union members throughout his campaign, and their energetic mobilization made the critical difference in one of the closest Senate races in U.S. history.

Now, after their failure to defeat pro-worker Franken at the ballot box, corporate front groups are hoping to keep him out of the Senate seat that’s rightfully his, to prevent him from voting to break minority filibusters and pass critical legislation to make the economy work for everyone. Because of the rules of the Senate, having a vacant seat is just as effective in squelching pro-worker bills as having someone there to vote against them. Even Dirk Van Dongen, NAW president, acknowledges that keeping the seat empty is a feature that Coleman’s backers are happy about.

(Worth noting: the Chamber of Commerce gets at least some its money from groups that have taken taxpayer bailout money. Not only is the Chamber putting its resources into anti-worker lobbying and anti-Employee Free Choice commercials—they’re paying to prevent Minnesota from seating a senator.)

Coleman and his cronies already have lost the battle in the court of public opinion as well as in Minnesota’s judicial branch. At Daily Kos, Arjun Jaikumar provides a comprehensive rundown of the voices from across the political spectrum asking Norm Coleman to give it a rest—including three newspapers that endorsed Coleman during election season. And Sam Stein at The Huffington Post gets a Republican official on the record suggesting Coleman isn’t doing himself any favors:

If this goes much farther, he will lose whatever goodwill he has remaining with the voters of Minnesota and he can kiss a political comeback goodbye. There is a fine line between toughness and obstinacy.

A poll of Minnesota voters shows that 63 percent think Coleman should concede, and 59 percent say Franken should be seated now, giving Minnesota’s voters the two senators that every other state gets.

Experts say Coleman has minimal chances of getting the previous rulings overturned—and he knows it. He can’t overturn the vote, but as long as the seat is vacant, Coleman & Co. can make it harder for the majority in the Senate to break filibusters and pass pro-worker legislation.

It’s the equivalent of saying: if we don’t get to win, nobody does.