An opinion from Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office agrees with Democrats that Paynesville Republican Michelle Fischbach *cannot* continue to serve in the state Senate when she becomes lieutenant governor. State Solicitor General Alan Gilbert writes a “strong argument” can be made that an 1898 Supreme Court ruling — that a lieutenant governor can simultaneously serve as a state senator — does not apply in this case because the lieutenant governor’s reponsibilities now include more executive branch duties — and thus a potential conflict in separation of powers.
Governor Mark Dayton requested the opinion, but is apparently leaving it to Senate Democratic leaders to sue, which they’ve said they will. Dayton says, “That’s a matter for the Senate to resolve within itself, and for the courts then to resolve if the Senate’s unable to do so.”
Senate Republicans respond the attorney general’s opinion is just that — an opinion — and they say Fischbach will retain her Senate seat while she temporarily serves as acting lieutenant governor. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Tom Bakk has threatened legal action if Fischbach remains in the Senate.
The dispute began after Senator Al Franken said he’d resign from the U-S Senate amid allegations of sexual harassment. Governor Dayton announced he’ll appoint Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to replace Franken. Per the state Constitution, Fischbach, as president of the Minnesota Senate, would then become lieutenant governor. But top G-O-P lawmakers don’t want to risk losing a special election for Fischbach’s seat, even though the district leans Republican. That’s because if Democrats were to win that seat, they’d likely regain majority control of the Minnesota Senate.
Gov. Dayton’s comments Thursday: