MN-Sen: State Supreme Court Justice is a Norm Coleman Donor and Should Recuse Himself

Last week, I took a look at the political leanings of the five Minnesota Supreme Court Justices who will decide Republican Norm Coleman's likely appeal.  Of one of the five Justices, Justice Christopher J. Dietzen, I suggested that he "has the clearest partisan background" of any of the Justices, pointing to facts including Dietzen serving as a campaign lawyer on Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2002 campaign.  Of Dietzen's service on Republican Pawlenty's campaign, I sarcastically noted:

So, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign lawyer is one of the five judges that will decide Republican Norm Coleman's appeal.  Nothing wrong with that.

Clearly, one of the Justices being active in Republican politics is sketchy, but I didn't go so far as to call for Justice Dietzen to recuse himself from any further cases before the state Supreme Court involving Norm Coleman and the Senate seat.  Until now.

DownWithTyranny! took my analysis a little further and found out that Justice Dietzen is himself a two-time Norm Coleman donor!  A simple search on OpenSecrets.org finds that Justice Dietzen has given to a number of Republican committees and candidates, including:

Contributor           Occupation            Date           Amount      Recipient
Chris Dietzen       Larkin Hoffman       12/3/01       $250          Coleman, Norm (R)
Chris Dietzen       Larkin Hoffman       1/21/04       $250          Coleman, Norm (R)

FYI, Larkin Hoffman is one of the law firms that Dietzen worked at before becoming a judge.

Remember that two of the Minnesota Supreme Court's seven Justices recused themselves from hearing Coleman's appeal to the state Supreme Court because they served on the state Canvassing Board.  Those two Justices wanted to avoid the conflict of having served on the Canvassing Board and then serving on the Court that will hear an appeal of, in part, the Canvassing Board's actions and decisions.

Well, one of the remaining Justices that will decide Norm Coleman's electoral fate is a two-time Norm Coleman donor!  Heck, one of the two contributions occurred in the six years leading up to Coleman's 2008 re-election bid - in other words, it was put toward this very election whose result Coleman is preparing to appeal.  This is a crystal clear conflict of interest.  Justice Dietzen should recuse himself from any Coleman appeals to the state Supreme Court in order to prevent the (rather obvious) appearance of bias.  If you feel the same way, you should let Justice Dietzen know by contacting his office at (651) 297-7650, and - very respectfully - urging Justice Dietzen to recuse himself in order to avoid a clear conflict of interest and the appearance of bias by having a previous Norm Coleman donor rule on Norm Coleman's electoral fate.

For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

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No, Blocking Franken Isn't a Win-Win for Pawlenty

Some convoluted reasoning from Chris Cillizza:

Seen through the 2012-only lens, Pawlenty's current position [as "staunch defender of Coleman's right to continue his legal appeals despite his 312 vote deficit"] looks more like a win-win.

Assuming he doesn't plan to run for reelection, Pawlenty can refuse to sign the election certificate for Franken -- if Coleman wants to take the legal fight federal -- and continue to raise his national profile by arguing (in his low key, inoffensive way) on a variety of televisions outlets that he is simply trying to ensure no legitimate votes are left uncounted, a GREAT issue for him in the eyes of GOP base voters.

And, if Coleman ends his appeal after if he loses at the state Supreme Court level, Pawlenty has seen his national profile raised as a defender of voters' rights without any serious backlash in the state.

"It's a net positive for him, especially nationally," said one senior Republican strategist. "He has a solid position: He has consistently said he wants to see the legal process completely played out to ensure no voter is disenfranchised and the actual winner is sent to DC."

To this point, Pawlenty has nicely played out a tricky political situation to his benefit, a deftness that speaks well of his potential as a national candidate in 2012.

Only inside the Beltway could it be believed that service as an obstructionist hyper-partisan hack forwards a politician's presidential ambitions. Just ask Bob Dole how easy it was for him to shake off the "hatchet man" label bestowed on him in 1971 by fellow Republican Senator William Saxbe or live down his own comments in the 1976 Vice Presidential debates about 1.6 million Americans dying in "Democrat wars" of the 20th century. (He was still fighting off this public perception during the 1996 general election.)

No, while Tim Pawlenty plays his partisan fiddle in the Minnesota Senate recount symphony, his state has been metaphorically burning with only one Senator for months. It's not as if Norm Coleman's chances of overtaking Al Franken's lead were great or even mediocre at the get-go of these seemingly unending legal proceedings -- through which time Pawlently has toed his party's line to the detriment of his state, which is without half of its representation in the Senate. By this point, Coleman's hopes are close to nil, yet Pawlenty still continues to flak for the former Senator and the Republican Party.

I'm not suggesting that being a partisan hack is necessarily a bad thing for a career politician like Pawlenty in a Republican primary. But to suggest that placing party over state and country is a "win-win" for Pawlenty ignores a key fact about American elections -- the primary isn't the only election, and the excessively partisan don't tend to do well in general elections. So while Cillizza might not believe it, there are real downsides to Pawlenty's current course of action.

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MN-Sen: Local Support For Norm Eroding

Yesterday, Jonathan brought word that the National Review's Ranesh Ponnuru had given up on Norm, suggesting that it was time for Coleman to finally abandon his fight for the Senate seat.

Now today (h/t Senate Guru) we're seeing some local supporters abandoning Norm as well, both some within the Minnesota GOP (from Glenn Thrush)...

Writing in NationalReview.com, Minneapolis attorney and Powerline blogger Scott Johnson lays out the many ways in which the Coleman campaign blew the recount, writing, "I admire Coleman's public service and believe he has been an outstanding senator. But since the election, the Coleman campaign has put on a performance that conveys a strong impression of complacency and ineptitude; the Franken campaign out hustled and outsmarted it."

And former Minnesota Republican Sen. David Durenberger told the Minnesota Post earlier this week that the message from Republicans in Washington is "'We will continue to fund you, just to keep the Democrat out of the Senate.' At some point, somebody has to deal with what's the will of the people of Minnesota."

...and a Minnesota newspaper, which had originally endorsed Norm, now calls on him to "throw in the towel"...

There are too many important issues in Minnesota to let the state be without Senate representation. Whatever the means, Franken holds the lead in the race by 225 votes, and the courts have agreed with that result.

Coleman is now only delaying the seating of Franken and in doing so is not servicing his staff, his financial contributors or the people of Minnesota.

For a time many Minnesotans followed the case closely, but now, after five months, they mainly see stalling. As for the rest of the country, at first, Americans thought Minnesota looked like a diligent place for vote recounts. Now, it's starting to seem like an election laughingstock.

And Coleman, who rails against career politicians, is looking like a career politician who is losing his career.

A good politician knows when he is looking bad and making his state look bad.

Throw in the towel.

Team Franken can declare victory at every opportunity they want -- and they should -- but the thing that's really going to end up pressuring Norm to finally give it up is from folks in his own party. What we're seeing here is the beginning of the end.

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National Review: Time for Coleman to Give Up

It's not often I agree with The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, but perhaps once every other blue moon it happens. Ponnuru writes:

I think it's time for [Norm Coleman] to give up this fight.

With today's news that Al Franken's lead is actually growing, narrowing Norm Coleman's already extremely narrow path to overtaking Franken, Ponnuru's right. I'm surprised to hear him say this, and I'm not holding my breath for other conservatives to say the same thing (though who would be the next to chime in on this -- David Brooks?). Nevertheless, a semblance of reality from The National Review doesn't often happen.

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MN-Sen: Thanks, Norm!

Last week, the 3-judge panel presiding over the Minnesota Senate trial ordered several hundred absentee ballots opened and counted. Today 351 ballots were counted and the last thing I heard on the live feed at The Uptake before the session ended was "Franken 198, Coleman 111." Not exactly the result Norm Coleman had in mind when he set this whole trial thing in motion, but hey, thanks, Norm!

From The Star Tribune's report:

Democrat Al Franken today extended his lead over Republican Norm Coleman in the U.S. Senate election, following the counting of about 350 formerly rejected absentee ballots this morning by a three-judge panel.

Unofficially, Franken took nearly 200 of the ballots, while Coleman added a little more than 100. The ballots added about 90 to Franken's recount lead, enlarging his margin over Coleman to more than 300.

The result makes it even more likely that, barring an unforeseen circumstance, Franken will prevail in the election lawsuit that Coleman filed in January to contest the Democrat's 225-vote recount lead. The court has not said when it will issue a final decision in the case.

In real terms, this result changes nothing. As Norm himself has made clear, he will appeal the final decision by the court to the Minnesota Supreme Court. But let the record show that today's count, which was a result of Norm Coleman's lawsuit, reinforces a trend we've seen continue ever since the election in November: the more votes that are counted the more Al Franken's lead grows. Al Franken was the choice of Minnesotans and as such should be seated in the US Senate. Sign the DSCC's petition telling Norm to give it up.

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