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. Agre is surely a brilliant mind and may have been a lion of the Senate or just a quirky, isolated dud. There really is very little crossover between intellectual power and people skills. Sometimes they are at odds. I’m reminded of famed and brilliant atheist, scientist, author and public speaker Richard Dawkins who admitted this flaw. ” I don’t suffer fools gladly,” he once said. ‘I’m no good at saying “yes” but shouldn’t you really consider this'” when met with a silly idea. I can put it no better than data from Forbes Magazine did in 2012: “Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge.” (Forbes, 4/12/12) I suspect the same applies to political capital, too. So while Agre is a dead-on academic star, his success in the biggest social caldron of divergent interests in the world is less assured. That hot spot is occupied by people, not atoms.

  2. Franken’s future resignation is a democrat party sham. Bill Clinton felt no compulsion to resign as Hillary continues to aid and abet his immoral and allegedly criminal behavior which she has done for 40 years. Why is “resignation” all of a sudden important now for the democrats? By any standards, Hillary accepted preposterously corrupt “kid gloves,” preferential treatment by the FBI with reference to the crimes so well delineated by the fired FBI Director and best friend of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, James Comey. If Franken proposes to resign at some nebulous point in the future, Bill and Hill should proffer their allocutions. The democrats need a comprehensive “Truth Commission.”
    _________

    “I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.”

    – Al Franken
    __________

    “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

    – Bill Clinton
    __________

    “This is—the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

    – Hillary Clinton

    • As I watched Senator Franken’s speech I wondered if we haven’t gone overboard about male-female relationships. Bill Clinton’s behavior in the Oval is a classic meaning of Sexual Harrasment. Putting your hands in front of a woman’s breasts, without touching, doesn’t rise to that level. Why now? Are women having a field day with “back at you, guys”? How long ago did Franken’s accuser see the picture?

      After each man’s revelation we have the “jump on the wagon” ladies. Who are they? “Another accuser came out” is all we get. I think, no matter which party, the accuser should face the acused. The ethics committee process might have been better. We might have found few would face an investigation.

      Personally, I would tell everyone to stay, (Franken, Moore, et al), and use the ethics committee to resolve the charges, requiring the women testify. Both men have spent a lot of time working to get where they are. So just watching your life dissolving with no opportunity to challenge their accusers is not the American way.

      • I agree. What happened to due process? This was a political stunt hardly less noxious than the disgraceful (silent) backing of the President’s endorsement of Moore by the Republicans. If the Democrat women think they are gaining the high ground (and securing the majority) by endorsing the victim role and ignoring our country’s laws and legal procedures, they are grievously wrong. They are disgracing themselves and they are part of the unraveling of our nation’s rule of law. And attacking Bill Clinton is ludicrous: he was elected despite public sexual entanglements. And aside from the tawdry relationship with a willing adult while in office, he appointed Janet Reno (a woman) to Attorney General and Madeleine Albright (also a woman) to Secretary of State, the two most “manly” roles in the government at that time besides his own office. That is what broke the glass ceiling for women by showing the nation that, given the opportunity, women can do any job. Bob Packwood, by the way, was a Republican advocate for women, especially abortion rights back in the dark ages for women (just a few decades ago). As far as these younger congresswomen, tell them to go back to 1962 and apply to the University of North Carolina as a freshman (barred from admission) or to the University of South Carolina Law School (a quota of 5%). We didn’t have an Al Franken back then. Remind them they just jettisoned a strong advocate for women’s rights. What about those of us who are mere citizens who helped get Al Franken elected because he ran on ideas we supported. Do we have any say, any rights?

        • Sallie Page,…
          Franken and the AZ Representative chose to resign.
          They both had the option of dealing with due process in the form of and in compliance with Senate or House procedures.
          Maybe there was more damaging information to come out if they dug in their heels.
          Maybe they just got sick of the situation and said the hell with it.
          Whatever the reason, they themselves made the decision to leave.
          So IMO I don’t think they were denied due process.

          • You make a valid point that he chose to resign. I believe he said in his speech that he’d rather go through the ethics committee process, that he saw the allegations as false or not as he remembered the incidents. But a good part of the Democrat party demanded his immediate resignation. I think they should have demanded swift action of the ethics committee. Then they could demand whatever after he had his opportunity to defend himself. In light of your comment, I’ll look at his speech again. Thank you for your comment.

            • Sallie Page,..
              – I just saw the highlights of Franken’s speech, so I’ll have to catch the video or transcript online.
              It seems that his fellow Senators ( at least 38, and 20+ were Democrats) turned on him very fast.
              My guess is that either there was more bad news/ accusations in the pipeline directed toward Franken.
              Or that a lot of Senators perceived that the public opinion winds were shifting and they caved in.
              Offhand, I can’t think of a similar case where a prominent politician went down that fast, without putting up much of a fight.

    • Why is “resignation” all of a sudden important now for the democrats?
      It’s important to Kirsten Gillibrand because she hopes to ride “woman power” into the White House in 2020.

      • The dumbocrats want to use “allegations” agaisnt Moore then Trump. They forgot about JFK’s 19-year-old intern and playmate.

        To wit,

        “He took me into Jackie’s room… I was powerless to resist: Ex-White House intern, 19, describes ‘passionate 18-month affair with JFK’

        A retired church worker has revealed how John F Kennedy took her virginity during a debauched 18-month affair while she was a teenage White House intern.

        Mimi Alford says she felt powerless to resist the late U.S. president as he pulled her into ‘Mrs Kennedy’s room’ and seduced her on his wife’s bed.

        Other claims in her published autobiography include that he made her inhale a sex drug during a party at Bing Crosby’s ranch and coerced her to perform a sex act on an aide while he looked on.

        When she thought – wrongly – that she was pregnant by the president, that same aide arranged for her to see an abortion doctor, even though abortion was illegal at the time.

        Mrs Alford’s claims are the most in-depth account of their liaisons so far published.

        They reveal how Kennedy never kissed her and ignored her whenever his wife was around. She never even called him ‘Jack’, always addressing him as ‘Mr President’ – even when they were in bed together.

        Their affair began in the summer of 1962, lasting until Kennedy was assassinated the following November. Mrs Alford, then just 19 years old and with the maiden name Beardsley, had begun a job in the president’s press office. After meeting Kennedy she says he asked to give her a personal tour.”

        – DM

  3. Franken resigns.

    Moore stays.

    Sam Seder, who has supported the firings of others based on public outrage about misrepresented events gets his job back.

    Integrity just lost 0 : 3.

  4. He should not resign UNLESS he truly believes he should. I got the sense in his announcement that he is planning to resign under duress.

    It’s profoundly undemocratic for him to be forced out by party bosses and replaced by the governor. Where is the due process? If Senate Democratic leaders decide they don’t want him in the Senate, then they can withhold DSCC funding from his next campaign and fund another candidate. And if Smalley himself really feels he can no longer represent Minnesotans, then he can decide not to run for re-election.

    Minnesota voters hired him. Assuming he runs for re-election, Minnesota voters should decide if they want to re-hire him.

    I didn’t like it when establishment Republicans tried to force Akin off the ballot a few yeas ago for the same reason that he was the voters choice (though McCaskill engaged in shady shenanigans to get him the nomination). Moore is the Republican primary voters choice in Alabama. They know about the accusations. It’s up to Alabamans if they want to make him their Senator.

    You either believe in democracy or you don’t. Letting party leaders nullify the will of the people is authoritarian and undemocratic.

    I don’t like it when either party does it.

  5. The dominant Dems in Minnesota pissed on both legs when they stacked the deck replacing Mondale when he was selected as Carter’s running mate in 1976. Reports indicate they have learned from history. The current Dem guv is reportedly going to put in the female Lt. Guv w/ the explicit agreement she will only serve as interim, and not seek the Senate seat in November 2018. That’s the plan. But as we know, if you want to give the Good Lord a laugh, tell him about your plans. From my stone cold objective perspective it looks to me like liberal w/m’s telling a woman she can play Senator for a few months and then go “home and bake cookies.”

  6. I have been a huge fan of Franken’s performance in the Senate, I also thought he should have resigned and said so in a column a couple weeks ago. While it might have been fair to characterize Franken as a comedian when he first ran for office. The Al Franken I witnessed made every attempt to keep to the issues and maintain a serious and sober tone. I think he should go but he’ll be missed.

    • enigma – since the Democrats have set the bar so low for its members, then yes Franken is competent, but it is his staff doing the work, not him. He just reads the script. It is when he goes off script that you get to see who he really is. 😉

        • Lower your expectations and adjust accordingly. It’s not like politics is some noble business. We see that demonstrated every day now. Senator Bob Menendez was able to mount a defense in his corruption trial by calling it ‘friendship’ not bribery. And he gets to stay until a Democrat Governor can replace him. Come on.

      • Paul – The bar on the Republican side is set so low as to make room for pedophiles and p***y grabbers (if you can believe his own words) so I don’t know we want to make a comparison.
        I very much liked the clarity Franken brought to Senate hearings when he questioned Betsy DeVos for example revealing how little she knew about education and Jeff Sessions whose denial of Russian contacts seems to be the norm for the administration.
        Despite his SNL past, he seemed to be quite serious about being serious.

        • Certainly we now all hope no trivial deeds from our distant pasts come to the surface…particularly if it’s a useful tool for a woman who hopes to be president in 2020.

          • Your definition of “trivial deeds” might not be the same as others, I’m certain politicians would never raise a woman’s past against her anymore like they have in the history of ever.
            It is a new thing that actions from one’s past can come home to roost now. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

      • I don’t know what the Senate pension rules provide. As a general proposition, I do not believe anyone’s pension should be subject to forfeiture in the absence of a criminal conviction arising out of employment-related conduct.

        • I agree most definitely with that pensions must not be subject to forfeiture, especially when charges levied against the account holder are minor. The only recourse that is in my immediate thinking that might justify denial of pension benefits is if there was pension fraud on behalf of the beneficiary and the amount of unearned benefit will be the amount demanded.

          The loss of a pension serves as a lifelong punishment and cannot be equally assessed. Moreover, there is every incentive for an employer to fabricate or embellish charges against a worker while having the design of retaining the funds for their pension. There was a time where surplus pension fund obligations were raided by company officials.

          A pension that is subject to forfeiture creates an environment where an employer may promote coercive working conditions knowing that workers will refuse to speak out for fear of retribution.

          Also, at least in my state, pensions and benefits received from public employment (at least) are considered a property right and the removal of such a pension could be unconstitutional. Also, pensions arising from disability are not subject to garnishment, bankruptcy proceedings, and other forms of attachment.

  7. I know Al Franken personally. That’s a complaint, not a brag. Those magical 300 ballots turned up at my voting station.

    Behold instant karma to another brat from Blake.

    Franken should not resign. We should be allowed to pick someone else. Dayton is going to install someone worse than Franken. If they allow him to hang around to get voted out of office, the DNC will lose that set. Thanks national DNC for forcing your will on the citizens of MN for political postering.

    Agre is better than Franken but that’s not saying much .He’s a responsible and reasonable choice. Dayton is not responsible or reasonable.

    There’s your answer.

    Franken is the devil that we know. Who knows what demons are lurking under Dayton’s desk.

    • What goes around comes around eh, Senator ‘voter fraud and cheating almost certainly got me elected to cast the 60th vote on Obamacare’ Franken?

      But I do think that forcing a Senator out for sexual misconduct that took place before he was a member of Congress, should absolutely cause the release of names of every Congressman who had settlements paid out from the hush fund of taxpayer money for any alleged sexual harassment. And then each and every one of them should be forced to resign as well.

  8. With nary a mention of Citizens United— the wedge needed for any serious conversation of public financing of elections— it’s clear that your interest, Mr Turley, is not the public good.

  9. I had political differences with Franken, but he was not only a comedian before seeking the senate job. In between, he was a talk-show host and refined his political ideas during that period. As a senator, he often did a better job questioning nominees that came before the Judiciary Committee than the attorneys on that committee. He studied hard and worked hard to do his senate job. I know nothing about Agre, but I have noticed over the years that high IQs do not necessarily translate into wise decision-making. I did read his Rush Limbaugh book and found it very funny. I hope we will get to hear and read more of his comedic talent in the future.

  10. It’s too bad that Franken has to go, but we have to be consistent. Of course by the same standards Trump has to go and Moore must not be elected. But we can’t protest the grabber and the pedophile and turn a blind eye to Franken’s misdeeds.

    At any rate, Agre sounds like a potentially good choice, government could use more intelligence. But intelligence in pursuit of what? Hitler was highly intelligent, they say. What does Agre stand for?

      • Not that I didn’t know anything about this, but shouldn’t that say, “Allegedly fondled a 14 yr-old…”?

        “Another man who boasted about committing sexual assault, and stands accused by over a dozen women of doing so, is POTUS.”

        Which one, Trump or Clinton?

        Or…. you have the alternative:

        We came, we saw, he died (chuckles…). And I thought assassination of a sitting leader was against the law too. And, by the way, that never gets old. Now, millions of lives impacted unleashing a wave of humanity that is challenging the order of the entire world. But stick to your little finger-pointy games.

  11. I am sorry but Agre does not seem to have a platform to run on. Sure, he is smarter than everybody in the Senate, but so is the average dog. Franken was a horrible choice for MN, but he was their choice and they deserve him, just like Arizona deserves Flake and McCain. At least we are getting rid of Flake and hopefully, God will take care of McCain for us.

  12. Wouldn’t there have been more “collective intelligence” when Jefferson dined with another person or even his dog?

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