Senator Al Franken continues to languish in legal challenge hell, as the man he beat, Norm Coleman, plays the slowest stallball seen in Minnesota since the George Mikan era. My brother and the rest of Minnesota remain underrepresented. If you have to have only one senator, Amy Klobuchar ain't bad, but Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken is better.
Eventually, of course, the frivolous appeals will be exhausted and Senator Franken will take his proper place. But there's still some lasting harm: Minnesota has lost Senate seniority.
Senority, while not as all-important as it was before the 1970s, is still a big deal, determining committee asignments. Day of swearing in rules over all, but after that there's a strict set of criteria for classes sworn in together, which gives you an interesting, Senate-centric view of the world:
(Aside: Had the third candidate in the Franken-Coleman race, Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, won, he would have ranked at the top of the class, since he was Jesse Ventura's interim Senate appointee after Wellstone's death. And where's he been in this recount? My buddy who's an IP activist says Barkley said at this weekend's IP convention that early on he'd been asked what role he wanted in the recount and replied "none whatsoever.")
This tiebreaker puts Chris Dodd one notch ahead of Grassley--which doesn't matter much. Seniority within your party is what makes the difference in committee assignments and chairs. So seniority, even though it's lumped together, is really two different contests, just like an AFC team can make the playoffs with a weaker record than an NFC team that misses out.
So how does the delay affect him, Al Franken? More than it normally would.
Had Senator Franken been sworn in on January 3rd, 2009, he would have been near the bottom of the class. Former five term House members the Udall cousins are tops, with Mark of larger Colorado ahead of Tom of New Mexico. Next is Johanns, then, as noted, the three ex-governors.
This leaves first-time office holder Franken tied with three others. They are all prior elected officials, but Kay Hagan and Jeff Merkley's service in state legislatures and Mark Begich's time as Anchorage mayor count for nothing. Franken would rank behind Hagan from larger North Carolina but ahead of Merkley from smaller Oregon and Begich from smaller Alaska.
That would have put Franken at number 97 out of 99 on January 3, with Obama's seat vacant amidst the Blagojevich opera buffa. By now Franken would have already moved up to 94th with the resignations of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Ken Salazar.
But remember: date of swearing in trumps all. The tradition is so firm that Harry Reid or his successor would have a tough time making an exception for Franken. And because of Norm Coleman's delaying tactics, Franken drops behind not only Merkley and Begich, but also behind the four appointees who have taken office since Franken's original swearing in date.
Making matters worse for Minnesota: all six of the senators Franken should outrank, but doesn't, are fellow Democrats.
How much this matters in the long run depends on the longevity of the six senators who leapfrogged over Franken. Two of the appointees don't really matter. Ted Kaufmann, Beau Biden's placeholder, isn't running. And even if Roland Burris--who raised all of $845 last quarter--survives a primary and general election, at age 71 he won't be around long enough to move too far up the ranks.
Michael Bennet and Kirsten Gillibrand will probably face primaries, too, but after a first electoral test they, and Merkley and Begich, could last awhile (particularly Gillibrand, who at 42 is the youngest Senator). Franken, at age 57, could be around long enough that those lost months of seniority will make a difference between him and let's say Gillibrand getting a chairmanship sometime around 2018. And Minnesota will have Norm Coleman to thank for that.