Al Franken for Senate: in his own words

By Alex Park

In December 2005, Al Franken returned to his native Minnesota from his adopted home in New York City, lending credibility to existing rumors that the comedian-turned-political commentator was preparing to run for the United States Senate against Republican Senator Norm Coleman in 2008.He hit the ground running last election season, founding a Political Action Committee, Midwest Values, to raise money for Democratic candidates in tight races. In its first year, the group raised more than $1.1 million, largely from Hollywood personalities Franken had encountered during his entertainment career, and distributed it to candidates throughout the country.

Not everyone was thrilled with Franken’s jumpstart into the political big leagues. Coleman was blunt when he told the Star Tribune last fall that “Hollywood values aren’t Midwest, and the money isn’t Midwest.” But wherever it came from, the money brought a message. With his connections known, his clout on both the national and state political stages established, and his fundraising abilities proven, he formally announced his candidacy for Senate on Feb. 14, 2007.

Last Sunday, The Mac Weekly sat down with Franken during a campaign visit to campus-the first stop during Franken’s “College Week” tour of Minnesota campuses-to discuss his decision to enter the race, as well as his thoughts on key Republican figures, polarization between liberals and conservatives, and running comparisons between him and conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.

This is the third interview The Mac Weekly has conducted with Al Franken since Feb. 2006, and the first since he announced his candidacy.

The Mac Weekly: The last time we met, you had just released “God Spoke” and it was well known that you were considering running for Senate, though you hadn’t yet declared your intention to run. What’s changed since then to make you think now was the time to run?

Al Franken: Nothing changed. It was a sort of evolution, which of course . the definition of evolution is change (laughter). Sorry. I was considering it; I don’t think I made any secret of that. And I weighed a lot of things, and I felt after 2004 that . with the Bush Administration, that the direction of the country was still going . alarmingly in the wrong direction. And, I was doing the radio show, and I felt I was making a contribution there, and I was weighing if I could make a bigger contribution in the Senate. I felt like I could. And then I had to decide one, if I could win. And I thought I could. Coleman is vulnerable in a lot of different ways, because he hasn’t represented Minnesota, and average people in Minnesota. And then I considered . the other part of that equation was, would I be a good Senator; would I be a good candidate. And I thought I would be. And then, did I want to go through this?

And I think I made the final decision when I was in Iraq last December. And I had been doing a constant gut check for the last several months. And I was there, and I was with men and women who were on their third tour. And they were away from home for as much as sixteen months and away from their families, in danger. And I thought, well, hell, I can do this. It’s no big deal. So I said sure, I’m gonna do it.

TMW: Since George Bush took office, the country has been marked by severe polarization. How do you expect to help bridge the two sides of the political equation in the country today?

AF: Well, I think, hopefully, it will start a new era when Bush leaves. What I say is . Think back to 9/12. The whole world was behind us. We were one country, and I think that Bush had an opportunity not just to lead us, but the world, a world of progress, mutual . sacrifice, mutual purpose. And, he blew it, by dividing people. And Rove . and Rove, and all of them. Rove immediately went back and said, “We can take advantage of this” (laughs) and they did. And they landed ads showing Max Cleland [(D) from Georgia] with his face next to . you know . juxtaposed with Saddam, and Osama, said he didn’t have the courage to lead. They ran nasty ads against Paul [Wellstone (D), a former Senator from Minnesota who died in a 2002, election season plane crash] saying he voted for seaweed eradication. As it turned out, 86 senators okayed that, including Bill Frist who landed the ads, who okayed the ads. You know, and it was an ugly campaign. And that was all about going to war. So, they divided the country, and they’ll be gone.
Coleman has said, “How will Franken be able to work with the people he’s been critical of, or made fun of,” or something. Look, they will all be gone, or in jail (laughs). We’re talking about DeLay, Rove, Bush, Cheney, Gingrich, you know. Everybody I . there was a reason I picked these people (laughs). I’m not going to have to work with these people; they’ll be gone.

TMW: What about the voters? How will you get Republicans and moderates in the state to support you?

AF: Republicans in the state? I’ve had a lot of Republicans come to my events. And we will talk about who really cares about family values, and who really cares about the kind of things that conservatives purport to be about. The Democrats in Minnesota – the DFL – we’re both the conservative and liberal party. There’s nothing conservative about running up a $250 billion deficit. There’s nothing conservative about voting for a $238 million bridge to nowhere. There’s nothing conservative about earmarks put in the middle of the night. There’s nothing conservative about using the Justice Department as an arm of your political party. There’s nothing conservative about torturing people. There’s nothing conservative about the president claiming powers that don’t exist in the constitution he swore to uphold. There’s nothing conservative about having a war against science, where you’re editing scientific reports to deny global warming.

One of the first laws that I want to pass is . the pass law says, “No one can change the language of a scientific report without first getting the OK from the scientists.” It seems logical, but they do it. They do it. And they continue to do it. It wasn’t just that, it was on abstinence only education, it was on anything they could politicize, they did it.

TMW: The most recent Star Tribune Poll says that only around 27 percent of Minnesotans view you favorably, while 34 percent do not. Why do you think that is?

AF: First off, if you contrast that to the Rasmussen poll, which actually polled the registered voters? (laughs) There’s a stark contrast. Right now, this early phase of the campaign, we’ve been really focusing on the nomination. And to do that, every candidate has agreed to abide by the endorsement. So, our focus has been on those people who tend to attend the caucus and who attend the conventions. So we haven’t been targeting all adults in Minnesota (laughs). We’ve been targeting those people who go to the convention, who will probably be at the convention. But if you look at the Rasmussen poll, my positives are much higher. I think they even may have done likely voters. So, I do much better with people who are actually paying attention. I think that’s good.

TMW: Conservatives have often compared you to sort of a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, rightly or wrongly. What would you say if Rush Limbaugh ran for Senate in Missouri, or Bill O’Reilly in New York?

AF: Well, I would say, when you say rightly or wrongly, that would be wrongly. I am not the mirror image of Rush Limbaugh, or Bill O’Reilly. I’m the opposite (laughs). They don’t tell the truth, I tell the truth … They’re just totally dishonest people. I am not the mirror image of them; I am the opposite of them, which is why I wrote those books in the first place. And anyone who reads those books with an open mind knows the difference, as I’m sure you do.

The Mac Weekly has had two previous encounters with Al Franken since the comedian-turned-politician returned to his native Minnesota.

Feb. 2006: “Minnesota’s Comedic Cand

Oct. 2006: “Comedian or politician? It’s complicated with Al Franken.”