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Biography

Elected: 2008, term expires 2020, 2nd term.

Born: May 21, 1951, New York City, NY

Home: Minneapolis

Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1973

Professional Career: Writer, network comedy show; Radio talk show host

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Jewish

Family: married (Franni) , 2 children

Democrat Al Franken was sworn in as Minnesota’s junior senator in July 2009 after a protracted dispute over the results of his extremely close November 2008 race with Norm Coleman. But he easily won reelection in 2014. Franken has downplayed his pre-Senate career as a Saturday Night Live comedian and liberal satirist to establish himself as a serious-minded legislator, but he freely uses his celebrity to raise money for fellow Democrats — and occasionally does bring some levity to the chamber.

Franken was born in New York City and moved at age 4 to Minnesota, where the family settled in the heavily Jewish suburb of St. Louis Park, just west of Minneapolis. Franken’s father was a printing salesman and his mother was a real estate agent. From a young age, Franken reconciled his competing political and comedic impulses by combining them. As a seventh grader, he ran for class president as “Honest Al” and hung posters in the hallways picturing him with a fake beard and a stovepipe hat. Franken graduated from Harvard and took a writing job in New York for the then-new Saturday Night Live. For most of the next 20 years, Franken helped to define the program’s sense of humor as it evolved from a fledgling variety show into a pop culture mainstay. Franken also frequently appeared on the program, most memorably as Stuart Smalley, an obnoxious self-help guru.

Franken left Saturday Night Live in 1995 and began working as a political commentator. After the Republicans swept to victory in Congress in 1994, he wrote four books, including Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot. In 2004, he joined the new liberal Air America Radio network with a daily, three-hour show opposite Limbaugh’s program. Franken spent the next three years excoriating conservatives of every stripe, from Bush administration officials to Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, whom he singled out in his 2003 book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox sued him over the use of “fair and balanced” in the title, but a judge denied its request for an injunction and the network dropped the suit.

Franken began thinking about returning to Minnesota to run for the Senate after Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash in October 2002 while running for reelection against former St. Paul Mayor Coleman. (In a 2012 remembrance in The Atlantic, Franken wrote: “Paul was the kind of progressive many of us strive to be—feisty, fearless, and energetic.”) Democrats chose former Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the ballot, and despite Mondale’s prominence and long political history in the state, Coleman won 50%-47%.

Franken moved his radio talk show in 2006 from New York to Minneapolis, and in February 2007, he announced he would run for the Senate. Republicans immediately drew attention to Franken’s liberal on-air commentary. His defenders noted that his program often featured in-depth interviews with policy experts. He appeared to have a clear shot at Coleman when lawyer Mike Ciresi dropped out of the race for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination in March 2008. But damaging revelations on the eve of the DFL endorsement convention in June threatened Franken’s nomination. A sexually explicit satirical article that he wrote for Playboy in 2000 about a virtual sex institute diminished enthusiasm for him among feminist groups. He apologized for the article and won the party’s endorsement. But polling showed him looking increasingly weak against Coleman.

Franken slowly won over skeptical Democrats and kept pace with Coleman in fundraising. The dynamics of the race shifted considerably in July, when former Sen. Dean Barkley entered the race as the Independence Party candidate. Throughout October, Barkley consistently drew about 20% in polls. Franken attacked Coleman for reportedly receiving free suits and below-market rent in Washington from political benefactors. But Franken was embarrassed by disclosures that he owed $70,000 in back taxes, and he paid a $25,000 fine to New York state for failing to carry workmen’s compensation insurance for his employees. This was an expensive contest; the candidates each spent more than $19 million. As the returns came in on Election Night, they showed the race to be exceedingly tight, with 42% for both Coleman and Franken and 15% for Barkley.

On Nov. 18, the State Canvassing Board showed Coleman with a 206-vote lead. A recount began the next day, and the board ultimately concluded Franken was 225 votes ahead. Coleman contended that 133 ballots were missing in the recount and contested the results. On March 31, a three-judge court issued an order designating 400 absentee ballots for review; 351 of them were opened and counted. And on April 13, the judges ruled that Franken had received the highest number of votes by a margin of 312. Coleman appealed to the state Supreme Court, and after a ruling in Franken’s favor, he conceded the contest. By then, each candidate had spent $6 million on the recount process. Franken was sworn in on July 7.

With his arrival in the Senate, Democrats had the 60 votes they needed to prevent Republicans from using the filibuster to block bills. As a new senator who had achieved celebrity in another role, Franken, like Hillary Clinton of New York, set out to work hard and stay out of the limelight. He refused to talk to the national press and spent the August recess on a strenuous schedule in Minnesota. His first bill, to provide 200 service dogs for wounded veterans, was co-sponsored by three Republicans and passed into law. He worked with GOP moderate Olympia Snowe of Maine to let women in the military have access to emergency contraception. And he joined Indiana Republican Richard Lugar on funding for diabetes prevention, Arkansas Republican John Boozman on rural veterans’ health care, and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley on improving colleges’ student loan forms. “He’s been able to overcome some critics that didn't know if he would be able to serve as a serious legislator,” University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson told Minneapolis’ Star Tribune in November 2012. Nevertheless, one anonymous Republican senator told Politico that year: “There is no way ever, ever, you could work with Al Franken on a major, serious bipartisan issue. He’s a partisan.”

In National Journal’s rankings, Franken was tied with Illinois’ Richard Durbin as the third most-liberal senator in 2012. He was tied with three other senators as the fifth most-liberal in 2013. And legislatively, he often takes a liberal approach. After the December 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., he introduced a bill authorizing $200 million in grant funding annually for schools to expand mental health services. In May 2010, the Senate voted 64-35 in favor of his amendment requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission to appoint an investor-led board to select securities ratings firms on a rotating basis. Franken also shows his asperity on occasion. At a White House meeting in February 2010, he excoriated top Obama aide David Axelrod for failing to set a clear course on health care, and later reportedly got into a profanity-laden exchange with White House adviser Gene Sperling about taxes.

On most issues, Franken has supported the Obama administration, although sometimes reluctantly. In January 2010, after a trip to Afghanistan (where he had entertained troops with comic routines), he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “I think the president’s plan, it’s probably the best of a series of options that weren’t so great.” After Obama agreed in December 2010 to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, not just lower- and middle-class taxpayers as Democrats preferred, Franken said he would vote for it reluctantly.

Franken is among the few non-lawyers to serve on the Judiciary Committee. During a review of the planned AT&T takeover of T-Mobile, Franken broke with unions and opposed the merger. He said the deal would mean higher consumer prices, while the Communications Workers of America supported the merger because it could add some 20,000 new union members. The $39 billion takeover eventually collapsed.

Senate Democratic leaders asked Franken, a magnet for Democratic donors, to head their campaign committee for the 2012 election. But he declined, saying he needed to stay focused on Minnesota issues. Even so, he frequently traveled to stump for Senate candidates such as Arizona’s Richard Carmona in Arizona and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren (a frequent guest on his old radio talk show), along with colleagues such as Montana’s Jon Tester and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown. In his appearances, he often auctioned off hand-drawn U.S. maps while exhorting audiences to avoid complacency. “You are looking at a senator who won by 312 votes,” he told a Massachusetts crowd in October 2012. “My charge to you is, ‘Work your butts off.’’’

Several local issues energized Franken. Despite objections from environmental groups, in May 2011 he supported a bill authorizing construction of a bridge over the St. Croix River near Stillwater. In late 2011, Franken tried to help his cold-weather state by cosponsoring a bill to increase low-income heating assistance funding. He got a bill into law in 2014 authorizing a land swap between the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Carlton County aimed at enabling the tribe and county to manage their lands more effectively.

Despite his reputation as a partisan, Franken has tried some lighthearted gestures to foster better relations between the two parties. He set up a “Hotdish Off” competition with the Minnesota delegation, which attracted TV cameras looking for images of conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and Franken cooking side-by-side. Franken also organized a “Secret Santa” gift exchange among Democrats and Republicans. He also once amused Senate Democrats by giving a fake Oscar speech at a caucus meeting, and his fundraising emails often contain funny bits. But he has remained protective of his reputation for seriousness. “It’s something I’m conscious of,” he told Politico in May 2014. “There’s this false dichotomy: If you’re a comedian, you can’t be serious, and if you’re serious, you can’t be funny. If you look at satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, you know that they’re very serious people.”

Franken emerged as a Republican target in 2014, with GOP strategists hoping that Obama's unpopularity in the state would have a negative effect on his candidacy. Republicans also sought to continue to paint him as a legislative lightweight. “The most positive thing that someone says about him is that he exceeds expectations ... Al Franken has been the quiet Al Franken, but there’s no record of accomplishment,” his former rival Coleman told The Hill.

Franken's opponent was Mike McFadden, a businessman who defeated four other Republicans in the August GOP primary. He and his campaign played the outsider card, urging Franken to join other members of Congress to return to Washington rather than take their traditional August break. At the same time, McFadden's campaign criticized Franken for attending a Democratic fundraiser at a Lake Tahoe, Nev. spa. Democrats responded by attacking McFadden for suggesting that the Keystone XL pipeline could be built with less-expensive Chinese steel instead of U.S. steel.

In contrast to some of his other Democratic colleagues facing tough races, however, Franken stuck to his strategy of largely avoiding the national media while seeking to run an error-free race focused as much as possible on Minnesota and as little as possible on Obama. It worked; he beat McFadden by 10 percentage points.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5641

(202) 224-0044

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 309
Washington, DC 20510-2309

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5641

(202) 224-0044

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 309
Washington, DC 20510-2309

DISTRICT OFFICE

(651) 221-1016

(651) 221-1078

60 East Plato Boulevard Suite 220
St. Paul, MN 55107-1833

DISTRICT OFFICE

(651) 221-1016

(651) 221-1078

60 East Plato Boulevard Suite 220
St. Paul, MN 55107-1833

DISTRICT OFFICE

(507) 288-2003

1202-1/2 Seventh Street, NW Suite 213
Rochester, MN 55901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(507) 288-2003

1202-1/2 Seventh Street, NW Suite 213
Rochester, MN 55901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(218) 722-2390

515 West First Street Suite 104
Duluth, MN 55802-1302

DISTRICT OFFICE

(218) 722-2390

515 West First Street Suite 104
Duluth, MN 55802-1302

DISTRICT OFFICE

(218) 284-8721

819 Center Avenue Suite 2A
Moorhead, MN 56560

DISTRICT OFFICE

(320) 251-2721

916 West St. Germain Street Suite 110
St. Cloud, MN 56301

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Aerospace

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Agriculture

Jake Schwitzer
State Policy Advisor

Blaise Sheridan
Legislative Assistant

Appropriations

Matt Hayward
Legislative Assistant

Banking

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Campaign

Commerce

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Crime

Leslie Hylton
Judiciary Counsel

Economics

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Education

Gohar Sedighi
Education Policy Advisor

Rachel Wilensky
Legislative Correspondent

Jake Schwitzer
State Policy Advisor

Cristina Veresan
Education Fellow

Energy

Blaise Sheridan
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Blaise Sheridan
Legislative Assistant

Family

Gohar Sedighi
Education Policy Advisor

Finance

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Gun Issues

Leslie Hylton
Judiciary Counsel

Health

Rachel Wilensky
Legislative Correspondent

Beth Wikler
Healthy Policy Advisor

Homeland Security

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Housing

Matt Hayward
Legislative Assistant

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Human Rights

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Intelligence

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Judiciary

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Beth Wikler
Healthy Policy Advisor

Military

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Native Americans

Matt Hayward
Legislative Assistant

Jake Schwitzer
State Policy Advisor

Small Business

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Telecommunications

Leslie Hylton
Judiciary Counsel

Trade

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Transportation

Matt Hayward
Legislative Assistant

Molly O'Leary
Legislative Correspondent

Jake Schwitzer
State Policy Advisor

Veterans

Jeff Lomonaco
Chief of Staff

Ali Nouri
Legislative Director; Energy and Agricultural Policy Advisor

Election Results

2008 GENERAL
Al Franken
Votes: 1,212,629
Percent: 42.0%
Norm Coleman
Votes: 1,212,317
Percent: 42.0%
Dean Barkley
Votes: 437,505
Percent: 15.0%
2008 PRIMARY
Al Franken
Votes: 164,136
Percent: 65.0%
Priscilla Faris
Votes: 74,655
Percent: 30.0%

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