Minnesota Senate Office Could Close Temporarily

Posted December 19, 2008 at 2:55pm

If the ongoing saga involving Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Al Franken and thousands of contested ballots in their Senate race isn’t resolved by Jan. 6, one Minnesota Senate office will cease to exist — at least temporarily.

Senate officials keep an office running when a Member dies or resigns by taking calls from constituents and performing some of the nonvoting tasks of a Member. But there’s no such procedure for when a contested election keeps a Senator from taking the seat when Congress reconvenes.

So come Jan. 6, Coleman’s office will be shut down, assuming Minnesota officials haven’t yet declared a winner.

“When a Member dies or resigns, there is a 60-day window for the office to close,” said Howard Gantman, spokesman for Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.). “There’s not a similar provision for when there is an extended time after a Senator fails to win re-election.”

Since the Nov. 4 election, Coleman and Franken have been embroiled in a close fight for the Senate seat, which could be determined by just a handful of votes.

The recount, which began in mid-November, has consistently showed Coleman with a slight lead, but on Friday Franken pulled ahead for the first time by a few dozen votes.

This week, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted Coleman’s petition to stop the counting of 1,600 wrongly rejected absentee ballots. Now Coleman, Franken, the Minnesota secretary of state and local officials will have to devise a system to determine how to count them.

If those ballots aren’t counted and certified — and the election isn’t called — by Jan. 6, Coleman’s staff members will be eligible to receive their salary for up to 60 days, Gantman said. So some may be on the payroll but not in the office.

They’ll also be eligible if Coleman loses. It’s a benefit afforded every Senate staffer whose job suddenly ends because a Member dies, resigns or loses their re-election, Gantman said.

But in this case, staffers are in a gray area. Do they wait to see if Coleman wins or start looking for a new job?

They might even have a third option. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is exploring whether he needs to make a temporary Senate appointment, according to CNN. That could mean continued employment for many of Coleman’s staffers.

On Friday, Coleman’s office was still up and running, but a request for comment wasn’t immediately returned.