Weiner will discuss the recount this Thursday with attorney Charlie Nauen at Micawber’s.
When Jay Weiner says he hopes that a major election race somewhere in the United States requires a recount next month-and multiple recounts would be all the better-he’s not being perverse, just entrepreneurial.
The timing would be ideal, given the launch of his new book, This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount, which he describes as a “how-to and how-not-to” guide for approaching such contests.
Weiner is a St. Anthony Park resident and former Minneapolis Star Tribune sports reporter, whose coverage of the 2008 recount of U.S. Senate vote between Norm Coleman and Al Franken for MinnPost, a nonprofit news website, earned him a 2009 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award from the University of Minnesota.
The title of the book is drawn from the rebuke delivered by a Minnesota State Supreme Court justice to a member of Coleman’s legal team. By authorizing local canvassing boards to count some absentee ballots that initially had been rejected, attorney Roger Magnuson implied, the State Canvassing Board was opening the way for the same type of “hanging chad” chaos that occurred in Florida during the Bush v. Gore presidential recount in 2000.
Justice Paul H. Anderson abruptly cut Magnuson off with an emotional retort. “This is not Florida. . . . [T]his is Minnesota, we’ve got a case in Minnesota, argue the case in Minnesota,” he said.
“There were those on the Coleman side who later looked back on this as an omen of what was to come,” Weiner reflected.
After 27 years with the Star Tribune, Weiner accepted a buyout from the paper and covered the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games for a group of news organizations. On his return to Minnesota that fall, he wrote a few articles for the newly formed MinnPost and, immediately following the election, was asked if he would like to “help out” with the recount coverage.
Weiner agreed, never dreaming that the assignment would take up the next eight months. First, the State Canvassing Board named Franken the winner. Coleman then contested the ruling in a trial before a three-judge panel. Losing the trial, he appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Court affirmed the lower panel’s ruling, clearing the way for Franken to be sworn in as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator.
Early on, Weiner wrote an impressionistic piece about the recount process for MinnPost, and Eric Schultz, Franken’s communications director, suggested to Weiner that he write a book about it. “I said, ‘No way. No money. No knowledge. Didn’t cover the campaign. Got other stuff to do,’ ” Weiner recalled. But as the weeks dragged on, he changed his mind.
During the trial phases of the recount, some viewers of television news may have found it wearing to watch the respective sides claim victory after each day’s court session, but Weiner said it was an imperative element of the exercise.
Jay Weiner (Photo by Terry Gydesen)
“This was costing a tremendous amount of money, and fundraising fatigue was setting in,” he said. “This wasn’t just a legal and political event, it was also a public relations campaign to keep party officials in Washington and donors convinced that the battle was being won.”
On the tactical front, one of the many moves made by the Franken team that impressed Weiner was its effort to put a human face on those whose votes had been rejected. That task fell to Minneapolis attorney (and St. Anthony Park resident) Charlie Nauen. In fact, after reading This Is Not Florida, one could conclude that the Coleman forces were outworked and out-maneuvered at almost every turn.
“I can understand how someone might come away with that impression, but it was more a case of the Coleman people being out-prepared and doing a less thorough job than the Franken side,” Weiner said. “In particular, the Franken team used data and technology very effectively.”
David Schultz, adjunct law professor at Hamline University and editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education, says This Is Not Florida is a winner. “Weiner takes the reader from the campaign to the courtroom, describing the personalities, strategies and legal maneuvering that define the closest and most hotly contested Senate race in Minnesota and U.S. history,” he said. “Scholars as well as general readers will find the book to be the definitive description of this race.”
Weiner will launch his book, published by the University of Minnesota Press, with a signing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at Micawber’s Books, 2238 Carter Avenue, St. Paul. Attorney Nauen will also be there to talk about the recount. Weiner also will have a signing at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union Bookstore.
Roger Bergerson, a former newspaper reporter, is a freelance writer and longtime Como Park resident. He enjoys researching and writing about local history.