On February 14th, humorist and Air America radio personality Al Franken made official what political observers have long expected: he will run for the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008, hoping to face off against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. In the wake of the announcement and, according to reports, several successful events to kick off the campaign, Franken took a few minutes to answer some questions about why he's running, major issues, and standing up to the right-wing smear machine.
MNCR: Straightforward question out of the gate: Why are you running for the United States Senate?
Al Franken: Here's a straightforward answer: I'm not happy with the leadership Senator Coleman has provided on the issues that matter to me and to Minnesota families, and I know I'll be a leader in the Senate. I'm going to lead on universal health care, on renewable energy, on taking care of our veterans, and on restoring America's standing in the world. I think we need more of that kind of leadership. That's the kind of Senators Minnesota has given the country: leaders like Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone and Amy Klobuchar. And that's the kind of Senator I'll be.
MNCR: More so than most recent candidates for statewide office, your name is already known to many Minnesotans. Which particular aspects of your experiences do you think prepare you both to run for and serve in the U.S. Senate?
AF: You know, I've been in this debate for a while now, with my writing and my radio show. People, I think, know me not just as a guy they've seen on TV, but as a guy who stands up for his principles and is willing to speak out on important issues. Take my show - we've gone in depth on issues ranging from Iraq to stem cell research to renewable energy to health care to early childhood education to tax policy to Social Security. I know the issues. But more importantly, I know where I stand on the issues. I'm for universal health care and against privatizing Social Security. I'm for stem cell research and against the president's Iraq policy. I'm for comprehensive immigration reform and against CAFTA. You'll never have to check which way the political winds are blowing to know where I stand.
MNCR: Is there a role for humor in the upcoming campaign season? How will you tell Minnesota that you're a serious candidate for a serious job?
AF: Well, I think people have a right to be skeptical, and I'm going to have to prove that I take this seriously. Again, I think if you listen to how I've dealt with the issues on my show and around Minnesota over the past year, you understand that I take the issues seriously. How can you not? That said, I don't think humor and seriousness are necessarily incompatible, and I think this is going to be a fun campaign. I'm not a career politician, and I'm sure I'll make some mistakes as we go, but we're going to run a really creative, really exciting race. Oh, and, if I could, I'd like to acknowledge and apologize for all the mistakes in advance. Can I do that?
MNCR: Hmmm?? No.
AF: Ah, nuts.
MNCR: The particulars are probably sensitive information, but what can you tell me about your strategy? Will there be a focus on urban, rural, or suburban areas of the state?
AF: I'm going to be a Senator for all of Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities. Obviously, the Twin Cities represent one of the nation's epicenters of the progressive movement, and I'm excited about being part of that. The suburbs are growing and becoming more Democratic, and I think we will do really well there. People there are interested in economic security and fiscal responsibility, and after how badly this Republican Party has screwed up in Congress, those are now Democratic issues. And the rural communities around the state are what make Minnesota Minnesota. It was so great to go around to Fergus Falls and Winona and Virginia and Crookston this past year and see the energy in these small towns. You can bet I'll be there a lot again during the campaign.
MNCR: Does the fact that you're running for the seat once occupied by Paul Wellstone have a role to play in this race? What do you see as the single biggest failing of the seat's current occupant?
AF: Paul used to say, "The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard." That's how I approach politics - I'm not afraid to show that I'm passionate, and I'll work harder than anyone in this race to earn the support of Minnesota's families. And I think this race is really going to be about character. People disagreed with Paul sometimes, but they knew that he led based on his values, and they trusted someone who stood by his principles. They knew what they were getting with Paul. And I think that's what leadership is. So if you hear me say that Senator Coleman's biggest failing is that he's not a leader, that's what I mean by that.
MNCR: What are your three biggest substantive issues right now, and what do you want to do about them in the Senate?
AF: Obviously, the biggest issue facing our country now is Iraq. For the past four years, the Republican Congress gave Bush and Rumsfeld a blank check instead of fulfilling their constitutional responsibility to provide oversight. That has to change. Congress has to find the best way out of this mess with the least damage to our national security and to the people of Iraq. Right now, I think that means putting pressure on the Maliki government to cut the Sunnis in on the oil, start a reconciliation process, and clamp down on sectarian death squads. We need a regional conference that includes Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, and a redeployment of our troops so they're not caught in the crosshairs of sectarian violence.
Second, universal health care, starting with every single child in this country. That we let kids go uninsured isn't just wrong, it's downright stupid. It doesn't cost that much to insure kids and it keeps them in school, keeps them from developing chronic disease, keeps families economically secure if a kid gets sick. It's a no-brainer, and I'll start fighting for that in my first 100 minutes in the Senate.
Third, an Apollo program for renewable energy. We can save our environment, make ourselves more secure by reducing our dependence on foreign oil (and actually DOING it, instead of just talking about it like the president does every year in the State of the Union), and create jobs here in Minnesota - it's win, win, win, WIND. Sorry.
Fourth, Veterans' health care. Regardless of what people want to do with our Iraq policy, everyone supports the troops over there. Me, I want to also support the troops when they get back here. Senator Coleman has a 40% rating from the Disabled American Veterans. That is really embarrassing. I'll fight to make sure we fully fund veterans' health care.
Sorry, that's four.
MNCR: Already we've seen quite a bit of mud being slung your way from conservative pundits in Minnesota - what's the best way, in your mind, to combat these attacks, and what outcome will you be fighting for in doing so?
AF: I take it as a compliment - they're obviously very worried. And, you know, I was a comedian for a long time, and I've been in the public eye for a long time. I'm sure they're going to dig up anything I ever said in front of a camera or a reporter and see if they can make it sound bad. If they want to turn this race into a referendum on my career as a comedian, I guess that's their prerogative. But I think Minnesotans are smart people with a very low tolerance for B.S., and I'm going to keep talking about how we can make things better for working families. The attacks didn't work in 2006, and they're not going to work in 2008. They may work in 2010; it's too early to say.
MNCR: Finally, what does the 60-second stump speech look and sound like, here at the very beginning of things?
AF: It looks and sounds pretty much like my answers to the last seven questions, except I say it out loud instead of typing it. Also, there are hand gestures and facial expressions. Really, your readers are getting a bit cheated having to read this. Maybe they should come out and see me around the state.
Or they could watch my announcement video, which is a bit longer than 60 seconds: watch here.
Also posted at MNCR
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