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Franken’s exit hands Dems another 2018 electoral headache

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2012 file photo, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty looks over the main stage during a sound check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. U.S. Sen. Al Franken's announcement Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 that he will resign triggers a mad-dash special election in 2018 to finish the Minnesota Democrat's term, with Pawlenty seen as a top possibility for Republicans to cash in an unforeseen pickup chance. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2012 file photo, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty looks over the main stage during a sound check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s announcement Thursday… ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sen. Al Franken’s announcement Thursday that he will resign sets off a scramble toward a special election in 2018 to finish the Minnesota Democrat’s term, with former governor and one-time presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty seen as a top possibility for Republicans to cash in an unforeseen pickup chance.

Franken said he would step down “in the coming weeks” after a series of sexual misconduct allegations caused support in his own party to collapse. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint a replacement to serve until next year’s election.

Franken’s departure is a headache for Democrats, exposing another seat in a midterm election that already had them defending two dozen incumbents.

Republicans are eager to recapture a seat that Franken won in 2008 by a tiny margin and only after a monthslong recount. They’re also hoping the sexual harassment scandal that engulfed Franken will saddle Democrats with enough baggage to help Republicans break through in 2018.

“A lot of the electoral momentum recently has been with Democrats, and I think Franken’s resignation will provide a strong boost for Republicans in Minnesota in 2018,” said Brian McClung, a former aide and longtime adviser to Pawlenty.

Republicans haven’t won statewide in Minnesota since Pawlenty won a second term as governor in 2006. But GOP operatives see a positive sign in President Donald Trump’s narrow loss in 2016 — by just 1.5 percentage points — in a state that hasn’t gone Republican in the presidential race in generations.

“I think this adds one more competitive seat to the mix,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who is running the GOP’s Senate election efforts, said.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, who served one term before losing to Franken, quickly announced he would not run in 2018, but other candidates could emerge.

Pawlenty had eyed the U.S. Senate the year Coleman won: He was minutes away from announcing a campaign in 2002 when a call from then-Vice President Dick Cheney persuaded him not to challenge Coleman. The former two-term governor has been weighing a return to elected office since a failed presidential bid in 2012, a year after he left the governor’s office.

Pawlenty has been CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable for five years, after not seeking a third term as governor and trying unsuccessfully for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The position with the leading financial services lobbying group in Washington has kept him close to national tax and monetary policy, including the GOP-controlled Congress’ tax plans this year.

“He’s always had an interest in the Senate, so there’s every reason to believe that conversation will be refreshed,” former Coleman aide Josh Holmes said. Holmes is also a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is largely responsible for candidate recruiting in his drive to retain a majority.

Pawlenty did not return calls seeking comment.

Other Republicans who may consider running include State House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who has been considering seeking the governor’s office, and Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents the state’s most conservative congressional district and narrowly lost to Dayton in 2010 before going on to win a House seat.

On the Democratic side, Franken’s departure adds to the strain for a party trying to cut into the GOP’s two-seat margin in the Senate while having to defend many more seats.

Ten Democratic senators are seeking re-election in states Trump carried last year. Robust Republican primary campaigns are already underway in several, including in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Democrats are defending 23 seats overall, while the GOP is defending nine. Two independents who caucus with Democrats also face re-election.

Democrats’ hopes in Minnesota could ride on someone shifting out of next year’s race for governor. A handful of top candidates — U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Rep. Erin Murphy and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman — have spent months connecting with party activists and their donors would be critical in a costly election.

Dayton’s appointment could give someone a running start for a 2018 campaign, but the governor may also choose to simply make a short-term replacement, tabbing someone who doesn’t plan to face voters.

His lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, has been most frequently mentioned for the temporary appointment. She’s known largely for behind-the-scenes work, including as Dayton’s former chief of staff. She ran former Vice President Walter Mondale’s brief Senate campaign in 2002 after Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. She also served as a top executive at Planned Parenthood in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

But Smith previously announced she wouldn’t run for governor next year, suggesting that if she gets the appointment she would be no more than a caretaker.

Dayton could also look to a pair of fellow Democratic statewide elected officials: Attorney General Lori Swanson or State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

Or he might choose to send a loud signal against sexual harassment by picking Rep. Erin Maye Quade, a Democratic state lawmaker who, along with other women, accused two fellow state lawmakers of sexual harassment, resulting in their resignation last month.

Dayton said he would make his appointment “in a couple of days.”

Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa and Kevin Freking in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith speaks in St. Paul, Minn. Smith is a possible replacement to fill U.S. Sen. Al Franken's seat after he announced his resignation amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, on the Senate floor in Washington. His resignation means Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will name a temporary replacement. The winner of a special election in November would serve through the end of Franken's term in January of 2021. (Aaron Lavinsky /Star Tribune via AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith speaks in St. Paul, Minn. Smith is a possible replacement to fill U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s seat after he announced his resignation amid multiple sexual misconduct… FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Franken, facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, appears on the brink of resigning from the Senate. Franken's office said he will make an announcement Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in a speech on the Senate floor. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Franken, facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats…

Garrison Keillor fired, says he put hand on woman’s back

By JEFF BAENEN, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Garrison Keillor, the former host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” said Wednesday he has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of what the network called improper behavior.

Keillor told The Associated Press of his firing in an email. In a follow-up statement, he said he was fired over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.”

Keillor didn’t detail the allegation to AP, but in an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Keillor said he had put his hand on a woman’s bare back in an attempt to console her.

“I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it,” Keillor told the newspaper. “We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

Garrison Keillor © AP Photo/Jim Mone Garrison Keillor Minnesota Public Radio confirmed Keillor had been fired, saying it received a single allegation against Keillor about “inappropriate behavior” and didn’t know of any other allegations. MPR said it was notified of the allegation last month and that it stemmed from Keillor’s conduct when he was responsible for producing “A Prairie Home Companion.”

In his statement to AP, Keillor said it was “poetic irony to be knocked off the air by a story, having told so many of them myself. But I’m 75 and don’t have any interest in arguing about this. And I cannot in conscience bring danger to a great organization I’ve worked hard for since 1969.”

Keillor retired as host of the long-running public radio variety show in 2016. His hand-picked successor, mandolinist Chris Thile, is in his second season as “Prairie Home” host. After Keillor retired, he continued to work with MPR on other projects.

The firing Wednesday came shortly after Keillor, an avowed Democrat, wrote a syndicated column that ridiculed the idea that Sen. Al Franken should resign over allegations of sexual harassment.

MPR also said the name of the show, produced and distributed nationwide by American Public Media, would be changed. The show has been named “A Prairie Home Companion” for more than 40 years. MPR also said it will end distribution of “The Writer’s Almanac,” Keillor’s daily reading of a poem and telling of literary events, and end rebroadcasts of “The Best of A Prairie Home Companion” hosted by Keillor.

Keillor started “A Prairie Home Companion” as a Saturday evening show in 1974, featuring tales of his fictional Minnesota hometown of Lake Wobegon “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

The show featured musical acts, folksy humor, parody ads for fake products such as Powdermilk Biscuits and the centerpiece, Keillor delivering a seemingly off-the-cuff monologue, “The News From Lake Wobegon,” in his rich baritone voice.

“A person could not hope for more than what I was given,” Keillor said in his statement Wednesday to AP.

Keillor bowed out with a final show at the Hollywood Bowl in July 2016, and turned the show over to Thile, a mandolinist and frequent “Prairie Home” guest musician. Keillor went on a 28-city bus tour this summer, vowing it would be his last tour, but he continues on the road with solo shows.

Keillor still produces the radio show, “The Writer’s Almanac,” for syndication, and is finishing a Lake Wobegon screenplay and a memoir about growing up in Minnesota.

Thile’s record company referred a request for comment from the AP to MPR.

Army veteran says Franken groped her during USO tour in 2003

Stephanie Kemplin poses with Al Franken in 2003.
© Stephanie Kemplin Stephanie Kemplin poses with Al Franken in 2003. An Army veteran says Sen. Al Franken groped her in December 2003, telling CNN that while she was deployed in Kuwait, the Minnesota Democrat cupped her breast during a photo op.

Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, is the fifth woman in two weeks to accuse Franken of inappropriate touching, and the second person to allege that such behavior took place while Franken was on a USO tour. Three of the five women have been identified by name.

Kemplin said while she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War, she met Franken — at the time, a comedian and writer — as he was visiting American troops with the USO. A longtime fan of “Saturday Night Live,” Kemplin got in line to take a photo with Franken.

“When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,” Kemplin said in an interview. “I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side.”

Kemplin repeatedly used the word “embarrassed” to describe her immediate reaction at the time.

“I remember clenching up and how you just feel yourself flushed,” she said. “And I remember thinking — is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going to move his hand? He never moved his hand.”

She added: “It was long enough that he should have known if it was an accident. I’m very confident saying that.”

Kemplin estimated that the touching lasted anywhere from five to 10 seconds. She said she eventually turned her body to shift Franken’s hand off her breast before the picture was taken.

In a photo shared with CNN, Kemplin — who was 27 at the time and a military police officer — is smiling widely with the left side of her face pressed against Franken’s right cheek. Franken’s right arm is wrapped around Kemplin’s back and his hand is on her side at chest-level, and does not appear to be on her breast in the photo.

Looking back at the picture, Kemplin said she recalls feeling frozen and numb: “I did not process it in those split seconds.”

A Franken spokesperson told CNN Wednesday night: “As Sen. Franken made clear this week, he takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct. He remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation.”

‘I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.’

In one of multiple lengthy phone calls with a CNN reporter this week, Kemplin repeatedly broke into sobs.

“I was in a war zone… You were on a USO tour — are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own?” she said. “I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.”

Kemplin said she did not say anything to Franken at the time.

“You’re immediately put on the spot. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? Your mind goes a mile a minute,” she said. “Who was I going to tell?”

She also doesn’t recall telling any fellow soldiers about the incident afterwards because she felt ashamed and did not have peers she felt she could confide in. But she discussed it with multiple family members and relatives, including her sister, as well as an ex-boyfriend. CNN interviewed both.

Amy Muddiman, Kemplin’s older sister, said she remembers Kemplin being excited that Franken was coming to visit because she had grown up watching SNL.

“I just remember her telling me that he grabbed her breast and that she was so shocked about it,” Muddiman said. “My sister is pretty bold and assertive and she said that she didn’t know what to do.”

One of Kemplin’s ex-boyfriends was also in the Army and he and Kemplin dated after the two of them returned to the United States. He asked not to be named to protect his privacy. He told CNN that while he did not remember all of the details of what Kemplin described of her encounter with Franken, she said “he went to put his arm around her and copped a feel.”

Kemplin’s account sounds similar to others

Kemplin’s story bears striking resemblance to those of several other women who have accused Franken of groping in recent days.

Lindsay Menz of Frisco, Texas, told CNN last week that Franken grabbed her buttocks while the two took a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. The Huffington Post also reported that two women, whose identities were not revealed, said Franken touched their buttocks in 2007 and 2008.

These stories came after Leeann Tweeden, morning news anchor on KABC radio in Los Angeles, revealed that Franken groped and forcibly kissed her during a USO tour in 2006.

Kemplin said when she saw Tweeden’s story on social media, she “felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me” because she had tried not to think about her run-in with Franken in years.

Kemplin reached out to Tweeden two days after Tweeden went public with her story, and the two women spoke on the phone a few days later. In one of their subsequent conversations, Tweeden asked Kemplin if she could connect her with a CNN reporter.

Over the past two weeks, Kemplin also wrote about her 2003 meeting with Franken on Facebook in two posts visible to her friends on the social network. One relative, whose name CNN is not using to protect the person’s privacy, commented on Facebook that her husband “remembers you telling him about (Franken) years ago.”

Kemplin, who now works as a federal contractor investigating Medicare fraud, is a registered Republican and said she voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. 

Kemplin recounts sexual assault by fellow soldier

One reason Kemplin said the Franken news has hit her especially hard in recent days is because she was the victim of sexual assault while serving overseas.

She said she was assaulted by a specialist with whom she shared a tent in 2003, just months before her run-in with Franken. The details of the assault were shared with CNN but are not being disclosed at Kemplin’s request.

CNN has also reviewed Kemplin’s military records. She was discharged honorably in 2008.

Sean Chambers, the platoon sergeant who oversaw Kemplin while she was deployed in Kuwait, described Kemplin in an interview as a “model soldier” who was honest, friendly and quiet.

Chambers said she confided in him about having been inappropriately touched by a member of their unit, though she did not divulge to him the full details at the time. An investigation was launched into Kemplin’s complaint of “indecent assault.”

According to documents viewed by CNN, Kemplin was eventually told that while the whole incident was “totally inappropriate behavior,” the accused specialist was not guilty of “indecent assault.” In addition, she was told that she was “responsible” for having allowed the male specialist to get close to her.

“I was really pissed off. It was not right,” Chambers said. “My reaction was: when is it ever the victim’s fault?”

He added: “I believe Stephanie. I believe that something did happen. I’ve seen sexual assault victims before in my line of work and the trauma that they face and there’s no doubt in my mind that something happened.”

Re-living her encounter with Franken, Kemplin said, has brought up memories of that assault

Kemplin struggled to re-acclimate when she came home from Iraq. Today she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has trouble sleeping. One of her coping mechanisms since the war, Kemplin said, is to “shut down” and block out certain negative memories, particularly when she is feeling overwhelmed. She has described this in the past as a kind of selective “memory loss.”

She said she is certain some people will question her story about Franken, because she is only choosing to speak out years later: “Nobody wants to believe anybody if you don’t immediately stand up and say something.”

Franken has repeatedly apologized about behavior that he said “crossed a line” for some women. The second-term senator has also said that he has taken thousands of photos with people over the years and that while he doesn’t remember specific pictures or campaign events, any inappropriate behavior was unintentional.

Franken faces a potential investigation under by the Senate Ethics Committee, and has said he will fully cooperate with the probe.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill this week, CNN asked Franken why he was unable to answer the question of whether more women could come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

“If you had asked me two weeks ago, would any woman come forward with an allegation like this, I would have said no,” Franken said. “And so I cannot speculate. This has been a shock and it’s been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed.”

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

The Minnesotan left-wing economic miracle continues, while neighboring Republican states slowly collapse

Last fall, I wrote about the strange case of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, a left-wing billionaire heir to the Target fortune who came to power and reversed his Republican predecessors’ Reagonomic idiocy, instead raising taxes on rich people, increasing public spending, and creating shared prosperity for the people of Minnesota.
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