Minnesota State Rep. Peggy Flanagan (D) addresses the Native Nations Rise rally in front of the White House in Washington, D.C, on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Minnesota governor passes over Native lawmaker with appointment to Senate seat
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) passed over a historic opportunity to name a Native woman to a Senate seat being vacated by a disgraced lawmaker.

Peggy Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, was among those rumored to be in consideration, Native journalist Mark Trahant wrote on Trahant Reports earlier this week.

But the state lawmaker, who is already busy with her campaign as lieutenant governor, won't be the first Native woman in Congress. Dayton instead named Tina Smith, his lieutenant governor, to the post.

“I accept this appointment, and it will be my great honor to serve Minnesota as United States Senator,” Smith said in a press release on Wednesday. “Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward. I will be a fierce advocate in the United States Senate for economic opportunity and fairness for all Minnesotans.”

Smith will take over when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) steps down. He announced his resignation last week, saying that allegations of past sexual misconduct made it impossible for him to serve as an effective advocate for "Native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long."

Franken has been an active member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -- since 2009, he's attended nearly every hearing and meeting, including one in October in which he advocated for better services for Native women who have been victimized. It was his past treatment of women which led to his downfall.

Smith is not guaranteed a spot on the committee, or on others on which Franken has served, but he is vowing to help out.

“Tina Smith will make an excellent United States Senator,” Franken said in a statement on Wednesday. “She is a dedicated public servant who’s worked tirelessly on behalf of Minnesotans, and Governor Dayton couldn't have made a better choice for this job. Her record of accomplishment as Lieutenant Governor demonstrates that she’ll be an effective senator who knows how to work across party lines to get things done for Minnesota. I look forward to working with her on ensuring a speedy and seamless transition.”

Smith will serve in the Senate until voters in Minnesota choose a permanent replacement for Franken. A special election is set for November 6, 2018.

In the history of the U.S. Congress, a Native woman has never served in either the Senate or the House. But at least three are running in 2018, Mark Trahant reported: Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District; Carol Surveyor (Navajo) for Utah's 2nd Congressional District; and Eve Reyes-Aguirre (Calpolli) for a Senate seat in Arizona.

Only a few Native men have served. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, are both seeking re-election.

Related Stories:
Mark Trahant: Minnesota could make history with first Native woman in Congress (December 11, 2017)
Lawmakers with connections to Indian Country resign due to sexual harassment (December 8, 2017)