The rapidly escalating calls Wednesday for Sen. Al Franken to resign have left some of his longtime supporters dumbfounded and angry. Other Franken backers reluctantly agree it's time for the embattled Minnesota DFLer to step down.
Betty Folliard, a former Minnesota lawmaker and women's rights advocate, called for Franken to resign even before new sexual harassment allegations surfaced Wednesday.
"This issue of sexual harassment is never just one victim, and we've seen that play out in Franken's case," Folliard said. "It's time for Gov. Dayton to move forward with an appointment and for the senator to step down. His effectiveness has been diminished."
Although Folliard said she's "saddened and sorry" that Franken needs to step down, "we're moving in the right direction … where we're saying enough is enough."
Some ardent Franken supporters say too many are rushing to judgment too quickly.
It's premature to call for him to quit before a Senate ethics investigation into the allegations is completed, said longtime supporter and wealthy Democratic Party donor Lou Frillman.
Half a dozen women have accused Franken in recent weeks of groping, harassing or forcibly kissing them. When news broke of a seventh — a former Democratic congressional staffer who said Franken tried to force a kiss on her in 2006 — Franken's support among the Democratic caucus crumbled abruptly.
In rapid succession, six female senators took to Twitter Wednesday morning to say he should resign. By late afternoon, more than two dozen Senate Democrats and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee called on Franken to step down from the Senate seat he has held since 2009.
The unraveling began in November, when Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of kissing her without consent while they were part of a USO tour of the Middle East and Afghanistan. On that tour, Franken is shown mugging for a photo, his hands hovering over Tweeden's breasts as she slept fully clothed. Franken issued an apology and called for an ethics investigation.
Frillman said he's not making excuses for Franken's behavior and "terrible judgment" regarding the Tweeden incident. But the other allegations still need to be proved, he said. "A lot of women once were burned [as witches] in a panic," he said.
"Things not proven should be carefully evaluated before anyone starts taking positions … because there's a larger struggle going on. … We're in a firestorm nationally — a terrible struggle for democracy, in my opinion."
A separate question is whether Franken can effectively serve amid the swirl of allegations, Frillman said. "He's a person of great integrity. I believed it when we signed on to support him and I believe that now," he said. "I think at the end of the day he'll do what's right for the state of Minnesota."
Former Minneapolis state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who was among those who urged Franken not to resign when the allegations surfaced last month, said her opinion hasn't changed. Completing the Senate ethics investigation would be the proper response to the level of allegations made against Franken and would send a message to other lawmakers that their pasts would be scrutinized, she said.
"Most of these incidents happened before he was in the Senate," Kahn said. "I have a really hard time believing there aren't members in Congress who have done much worse than him."
Longtime supporter and political donor Sylvia Kaplan also believes the investigation should be completed. "People are innocent until proven guilty," she said. "I'm kind of shocked by how quick people are to throw [him] under the bus."
Minneapolis businessman and political donor Vance Opperman is angry. "The so-called liberals are forming their usual circular firing squad and shooting each other. That's what I'm angry about," he said, stressing that Franken should not resign.
"We're in a constant threat to our democracy. Our institutions are under constant attack. We're being led by a buffoon," Opperman said. "We desperately need people in Congress and the Senate who are smart and intelligent and who won't be intimidated. Al Franken is one of those."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788