Senate panel debates bill to change how lieutenant governor vacancies are filled

    A Senate panel on Tuesday debated legislation sponsored by two DFL state senators who want to change the process of filling a lieutenant governor vacancy, providing a Minnesota governor the power to appoint a new lieutenant governor. 

    Currently, a vacancy in that office is filled by the Senate president, which occurred in late 2017 when former Gov. Mark Dayton appointed former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate. 

    The appointment created constitutional ambiguity when a GOP then-Sen. Michelle Fischbach elevated to the role but chose to serve in both offices before eventually stepping down from the Minnesota Senate. Senate Republicans cited a memo from the body’s nonpartisan counsel which said Fischbach serving in both offices was legal, citing an 1898 Minnesota Supreme Court decision. 

    The Minnesota attorney general at the time, Democrat Lori Swanson, disagreed, issuing an advisory opinion that cited other case law. 

    Despite a lawsuit, the constitutional question was never resolved. Fischbach is now the congresswoman for Minnesota’s 7th District. 

    State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the current process has the potential to disrupt how the Senate operates. “It leads to political game playing,” he said.

    Most recently, the prospect of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar joining President Joe Biden’s administration led the GOP-led Senate to appoint a DFL state senator to serve as Senate president, the first time a member of the opposing majority party served in the role. 

    Senate Republicans said they did so to protect their narrow majority, fearful Gov. Tim Walz would appoint Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to fill Klobuchar’s seat, elevating state Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, to Flanagan’s seat. That in turn would have led to a special election in Miller’s district. 

    Marty’s legislation did not advance, but state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and other Republicans said the discussion was necessary. 

    State Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, has also sponsored legislation to address the issue, with slight changes.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.