Ventura's Choice Could Alter Senate Balance in Lame-Duck Session

Regardless of who Minnesota voters elect Tuesday in the Senate race, Gov. Jesse Ventura has immediate influence on the congressional power balance with his interim replacement for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Ventura, a third-party governor, said Friday that he would wait until after the election to name a temporary successor, if he fills the seat at all. He said he hasn't ruled out appointing the election winner or picking someone with no political background.

Meanwhile, Ventura's office and the state attorney general are looking at laws and Senate rules to determine how long the appointed senator would serve. Although officials initially said the person would serve until election results are certified in mid-November, some now believe the term would run into January.

Depending on the political leaning of Ventura's choice, the stand-in senator could put Republicans in control and effectively shift the agenda when Congress meets in an expected post-election session. The Senate is split 49-49 among Republicans and Democrats, with one independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who is allied with the Democrats.

A day after Wellstone's death, Ventura said he was inclined to choose a Democrat because he didn't want to disrupt the Senate power balance. Upset by the political tone of a Wellstone memorial service, Ventura now says he may pick someone without regard to political affiliation.

"This person could become a very big power broker out there," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "When you look at the makeup of the Senate there isn't a whole lot of wiggle room."

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., made a public plea for Ventura "choose wisely and carefully."

"I expect this person will be besieged by both political parties and the White House and everyone else," Dayton said.

The winner of Missouri's tight Senate race will take office immediately because Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan was serving in place of her husband, who like Wellstone died in a plane crash close to the election. Alaska is also in play, where Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski is running for governor. If he wins, he wouldn't be able to name his successor until after his inauguration Dec. 2.

During the interview, Ventura thumbed through a two-inch stack of resumes from a broad cross section of people who want the Senate job, including doctors, educators, retirees and military servicemen. By Friday afternoon, 500 applications had come in and Ventura's staff was sifting through 1,800 new e-emails.

"Some of the resumes are quite impressive. These are not necessarily crackpots," he said. "If we're truly a citizen government, aren't all of us qualified if we meet the criteria?"

The Constitution requires senators to be at least 30 years old, a citizen for nine years and a resident of the state they represent.

It's not clear to Minnesota officials when the elected senator would take office.

In 1978, Republican Rudy Boschwitz beat Democrat Wendell Anderson, who took over for Walter Mondale when he became vice president. But Boschwitz wasn't allowed to immediately take office, despite a state law that seemed to permit it.

Because there was no lame-duck session it wasn't an issue. Boschwitz did take office early when he was appointed in late December by Gov. Rudy Perpich, who wanted to give Boschwitz more seniority than other freshmen.

In a 1984 report, the Senate's secretary and parliamentarian wrote that Minnesota's statute improperly allows a single election to fill two distinct purposes.

"In the Minnesota case involving the Anderson seat there were two separate terms of office to be filled and the state attempted to combine them which would allow a senator to be elected for more than six years, in violation of the Constitution," they wrote.

Steven Smith, a congressional scholar at Washington University in St. Louis, said his reading of the memo suggests that the appointee would be able to stay in office until the new Congress convenes in January.

"The Senate would be confronted with a choice — to uphold the 1978 precedent or to overturn it," Smith said.