The Franken Resignation: Time For Minnesota To Correct An Earlier Mistake With Peter Agre?

Sen. Al FrankenSen. Al Franken (D., Minn) will resign in light of the increasing number of women alleging sexual harassment and assault.  It is the end of a remarkable career that took Franken from Saturday Night Live to the most exclusive club in Washington.

The resignation reminded me of a column that I wrote when Franken first ran. I wrote about the striking difference between Franken and Peter Agre, a nobel prize winning humanitarian respected around the world.  As I discussed in the column, the result seemed inevitable in American politics as voters decided between the cheap shot celebrity and the world renown scientist.  Franken would respond to my column and went on to trounce Agre who would have doubled the IQ of the Senate by simply joining it.

As the governor of Minnesota looks for a replacement, it is worth noting that Agre is still available and still the more qualified candidate.  In case Gov. Mark Dayton has lost his number, here is his academic email and site.

The 2007 column is below:

For those who believe that American democracy is at a crisis point, there is no more vivid example than Minnesota, where comedian Al Franken has launched a full-throated effort to unseat Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. It is fast-food politics at its artery-clogging worst: instant gratification and no nutritional value. Yet, Franken has both personal wealth and a host of wealthy donors at his call — pushing out virtually all competitors. While Minnesota has long prided itself on favoring underdogs, the day may have passed when an idea-rich, cash-poor candidate can secure a major office.
Democracy becomes a noble lie when money bars most citizens from elective office. Candidates must now pony up millions to have a chance for statewide office, creating a type of oligarchy where offices are restricted to a small elite. The closing of politics to most citizens has profound implications for the country. There was a time when politics attracted certifiable geniuses such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Daniel Webster.

The threshold barriers to new voices entering our political process were evident during a recent conversation that I had with Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre. A Minnesota native, Agre revealed his interest in running but said he was told by state politicos that, in opposing Franken, he is a day late and a dollar short — well, $9 million to be specific. That was the amount that he would need to be “credible.” Despite a lack of money, Agre still intends to run as either a Democrat or independent.

Money machines

The $9 million could prove a conservative estimate. The average cost of the 10 most expensive Senate campaigns doubled in four years from $17 million in 2002 to almost $35 million in 2006. The 2008 presidential campaigns have already triggered their own records. In the 2000 Senate race in Minnesota, lawyer Mike Ciresi (who is also running in 2008) put up $5 million of his own money in his losing bid.

To win, a candidate needs buzz and bucks, and Franken — who has raised $1.4 million as mere seed money — has an endless supply of both. He thrilled bored voters by calling Coleman “one of the administration’s leading butt boys.”

Conversely, Agre does not have much to put on the table beyond a Nobel Prize for chemistry and global work on behalf of academic freedom. In today’s politics, that gives him about the same odds as Albert Schweitzer running against Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of course, brilliance is no guarantee that Agre would make a good senator, and he would have to prove that he could appeal to people beyond Minnesota Mensa members. Nonetheless, there is something fundamentally wrong when a man such as Agre is considered political roadkill. Even in a state that once embraced underdog candidates such as professional wrestler Jesse Ventura (who became governor) and college professor Paul Wellstone (the late U.S. senator), money now confines politics to the ranks of rich personalities and robotic functionaries.

Obviously, money has long played a great role in politics. But the exponential rise in campaign costs belies the popular notion that anyone can become president or senator in this country.

Except for his lack of money, Agre would appear the perfect candidate. Besides instantly doubling the IQ of the Senate, Agre would be the first Nobel Prize winner for science to be elected to Congress. While the Senate has been Nobel-free for more than six decades, he would join three prior senators and one vice president (the president of the Senate) who received Nobel Peace Prizes.

Born in Minnesota and a former Eagle Scout to boot, Agre seems to have walked off the set of A Prairie Home Companion: milking cows in the summer and eating lutefisk in the winter — a vile codfish soaked in lye that only a snow-crazed Norwegian can swallow with success. Part of a large farming and working-class family, Agre went to Theodore Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis (with another student named James Janos — later known as Jesse Ventura). His father was the chairman of the chemistry department at St. Olaf College. Growing up, Linus Pauling — two-time Nobel laureate for chemistry and peace — stayed at their home, unaware that the gangly kid running around would inherit his Nobel Prize 49 years later.

Clear contrast

Agre’s announcement would create a wild contrast for Minnesota voters. On one side, there is Franken, whose contributions to humanity include such books as Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right and Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. On the other side is Agre, who has quietly served medicine and human rights for decades around the world. His published works include scientific breakthroughs credited for having “ushered in a golden age of biochemical, physiological and genetic studies … at the molecular level.”

Agre could present an equally sharp contrast with Coleman on issues such as stem cells. Coleman has often discussed his tragic loss of two children to a rare genetic disorder as shaping his opposition to most stem cell research. Agre’s loss of his 3-month-old daughter, Lydia, to cerebral palsy helped shape his views in favor of such research.

The question is whether Agre will have a chance to make his case. The Man from Mensa could be the ultimate test of whether merit still plays a significant role in U.S. politics or whether money alone dictates our choice of leaders.

Of course, the very notion of a Nobel laureate joining the less-than-cerebral ranks of the U.S. Senate is something too much to hope for. It would be a scene reminiscent of when John F. Kennedy welcomed Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 and observed, “Never has there been so much collective intelligence in this room, since Jefferson dined here alone.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.

86 thoughts on “The Franken Resignation: Time For Minnesota To Correct An Earlier Mistake With Peter Agre?

  1. Ajit Pai, Trump’s FCC Chair, cracked a joke and did a skit about being Verizon’s puppet (video can be seen at Huffpo). The dismantling of democracy via an end to net neutrality was the focus of the protests surrounding Pai’s speech.
    Repubs are so funny, like Bush looking under the bed for weapons of mass destruction. (sarcasm).

  2. It’s time for a love song by Marty Robbins, “They’re Hanging Me Tonight”

    When I hear the rain a comin’ down it makes me sad and blue. Was on a rainy night like this that Flo said we were through. I told her how I loved her, and I begged her not to go.

    But another man had changed her mind so I said goodbye to Flo. I took my pistol from my hip and with a trembling hand I took the life of pretty Flo and that good for nothin’ man. That good for nothin’ man!
    I think about the thing I’ve done I know it wasn’t right. They’ll bury Flo tomorrow, but they’re hanging me tonight, They’re hanging me tonight.

  3. i lived on the East Coast (CT) for ten years. Lots of Trump info on NYC news showsl I never heard any sexual harassment claims. He did date lots of women. I suppose any woman he dated could now make claims. I doubt they could be right proven, support don’t get your hopes up!

    • Trump said it about himself on the Access Hollywood bus when interviewed by Billy Bush on video. Bush confirms the tape is real.

        • He would not be the first man to lie about his sexual exploits. In fact, the bush exchange contains precisely the sort of things I would expect this braggadocious narcissist to be lying about.

          • JAY – isn’t there a saying if a man is bragging about the number of women he has gone to bed with, divide by 5. If it is a woman, multiply by 3.

      • When I watched the Bush tape it looked like a braggadocious old man trying to impress the boy. Rather than judge him by that silly tape, why don’t news organizations interview people who worked with him and for him through the years? As a young man he worked next to construction men learning his father’s business from the ground up. I’d say he learned that business very well. Many black employees have stated there was never any sign of racism from any of the Trump family.

        What disappoints me by our “so-called” news organizations is their constant berating. I just finished a book by a then 19-year-old intern and her seduction by JFK and an 18-month affair. What was the age of consent in 1962? 21? Anyway, she was one of several. Yet media revere him. And Clinton with Monica, and they revere him also.

        So our President toots his own horn a lot. Find by me, I wouldn’t know about it otherwise.

  4. “a vile codfish soaked in lye that only a snow-crazed Norwegian can swallow with success”

    Says an Irishman whose sole nutrition apparently consists of bland potatoes and cabbage. You just missed the annual Norwegian Holiday Festival and Bazaar at the Sons of Norway Lodge in Fairfax, Virginia (http://www.norwaydc.org/) where we picked up a couple pounds of lutefisk for our traditional Christmas dinner. It always goes well with my wife’s kimchee. (We are a diverse family.)

  5. Sometimes a keen scientific intellect does not lend itself to a brilliant political career ( cough cough Ben Carson cough cough)

  6. I enjoy reading a solution attached to a problem. Linda should have read everything about piketty instead of cherry picking her statement of no solution offered thus doubled the no solution charge but it’s hers to own now.
    This is not the level of intellect to just grab and play grab ass with half assed information. We could have got that from any Progressively Regresive Liberal syncophant.

    • However I did offer the standard challenge so let’s see if Linda can ever rise to the level of unleavened bread. Personally I doubt it. But we shall see.

      Regressive has two S’s but then it depicts regression.

      • For starters Agre is a non politician which scores big points. in several areas being originally once in the USA from Minnesota with the same Norwegian background and my antecedents were from Norway direct or though England.

        I point blank bluntly asked about political affiliation. None given but he stated he would run as Democrat or A Libertarian. The first in that part of Minnesota is a given if you want to win. However he rejected the far left and from then on spoke as either a libertarian or an objectivist. and always as independently.

        The rest of his life and background is more than remarkable.

        And he isn’t a politician.

    • List them by name all nineteen. Then if you have bothered to back up your assertion with the basics i will go fact check them . Until then your bronx cheer post will remain as ….PCrap.

    • 60- year- old Republican, Trent Franks. Due to his resignation, he’ll miss the planned, sex talk avoidance, tutorial featuring the topic- “Inappropriate Discussion Initiation by Congressman with Female Staff ” – “…having my baby, what a beautiful way of saying …”

  7. Ain’t it grand. Turley offers no solution and his post ignores conservative courts’ rulings like Citizens United.
    Republican politicians have 4 times the money that Dems have to run a gubernatorial candidate in the egregiously gerrymandered and ALEC-dominated state of Ohio in 2018.
    The Repubs’ money derives from the richest 0.1%, who either fill the coffers with the profits taken from consumer purchases or who raked in money from schemes like LBO’s.
    French economists were surprised by the revolution (and, guillotines). This time, Thomas Picketty issued his warning.

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