Editorial: Fiesty Franken shakes things up

Published 8:44 am Friday, February 19, 2010

Franken’s feisty approach shakes things up

There is a feistiness to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken increasingly on display, a feature that doesn’t always look smooth but indicates a kind of guttiness and independence worthy of a closer look.

In an early February meeting between Democrats and White House officials, Franken “pointedly,” according to reports, remarked to Senior White House advisor David Axelrod that President Obama hasn’t done enough to move health care legislation, inspiring more pointed questions within the group. The freshman senator is personally courageous (or naive) on the health care issue, having advocated passing a health care bill via the controversial reconciliation process.

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Franken’s bluntness is gaining him a reputation. In December, while performing as presiding officer of the Senate, he shocked everyone by objecting when four-term Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a well-known thorn in Democrats’ sides, asked to extend his remarks beyond his 10 allotted minutes. Cutting off Lieberman pleased many liberals, but more importantly it showed that Franken, once again demonstrating his independence, will not always commit to unwritten Senate rules when he’s got his dander up.

Another time, during a hearing on a proposed $30 billion merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, he used his career as an entertainer to skewer industry promises that media consolidation — and the fewer consumer choices it entails — is nothing to be concerned about. And after NLRB nominee Craig Becker was held up for nomination by 2008 Republican presidential standard-bearer John McCain, Franken showed no reluctance whatsoever to take McCain to task at a hearing for not submitting to Becker a single question for several months.

Franken’s willingness to make the president’s senior advisor uncomfortable is noteworthy and probably beneficial, for every president needs a critic now and then within his own party. Such talk can’t help but score with a growing subgroup of non-traditionalist voters.

Franken is not a major player by any means, and he may in fact never become one. But he presents an interesting contrast with his more senior Minnesota colleague, fellow Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Whereas Klobuchar is sunny and reassuring, Franken, after having quietly passed through his initial “orientation” stage, has become something of a prickly bulldog.

In the political atmosphere of 2010, where voters are growing more and more weary of a stodgy old Senate wedded to a stodgy old way of doing business, Franken’s feisty demeanor is as timely as it is intriguing.

— The (Mankato) Free Press, Feb. 16