Franken begins his big day with Norm.. the other Norm

11:46 PM, Jul 8, 2009   |    comments
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Washington, DC -- There are those who'd see irony in this. 

Al Franken spent years fighting a conservative politician named Norm. And now that he's won the battle and landed in Washington, Franken will start his biggest day yet with a conservative guy named Norm.

That would be Norm Ornstein, the scholar who leads the Washington based conservative think tank known as the American Enterprise Institute. Minnesota's next US Senator spent Monday night at Ornstein's place in Washington.

I've never been sure just how these men from decidedly opposite ends of the spectrum became friends, but Ornstein was a regular guest on Franken's liberal talk show on the Air America Radio network.  Franken would herald each Ornstein appearance by singing "Norm in the U-S-A!" to the tune of Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

Ornstein was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and I once called his brother Dave who is city attorney for Bloomington. That day I was under the mistaken impression that Bloomington somehow prosecuted airport crimes -- yes THE airport crime of the century committed (possibly maybe) by Larry Craig. 

Dave Ornstein re-directed me to the proper authorities in a very friendly manner. And, based on that brief encounter on the phone, I gathered the Ornstein's have a good sense of humor. Maybe that explains the bond between Al and Norm.

Wellstone's Bible

Vice President Joe Biden will administer the oath of office to Franken, and later Franken will swear in his own staff.  This was something I'd never heard of until today, but apparently Senate staff members must also commit themselves to upholding and defending the United States Constitution.

We're told that Al Franken will take the oath using Paul Wellstone's Bible.  The late Senator was Jewish, like Franken, but Sheila Wellstone grew up Southern Baptist, in case you're wondering why his Good Book contained both the Old and New Testaments.

Wellstone got a boost in 1990 when the man he would eventually replace, Senator Rudy Boschwitz -- a Jewish native New Yorker -- circulated a letter among Jewish voters that Wellstone was not quite Jewish enough.  He took Wellstone to task for not raising his children in that faith.

My son's first grade teacher asked me a few weeks ago how Al and Franni raised their kids, religiously speaking.  I had to admit that was one topic I never researched throughout the course of this long campaign and overtime period.  I'm sure it will come up when people start discussing the Wellstone Bible.

Update: I've since been informed Franni grew up Catholic, but their children were raised both ways.

History overload

After the official swearing-in, done in current Senate chambers, Franken and company will repeat the process in a ceremonial or "mock" swearing-in the old Senate chambers.   Word has it that  former Vice President Walter Mondale and soon-to-be senior senator Amy Klobuchar will escort Franken into the Senate chambers.

As I mentioned yesterday, Monday was the first time I've set foot  inside the Capitol building. I definitely want to return here as a tourist. Just about 50 feet from where Franken spoke to the Capitol media Monday you'll find a bust of Hubert H. Humphrey, another storied Minnesota Senator who also served as Vice President and to make a good run for the White House in 1968.

I have a total weakness for museums. I will not be the first to note that Washington's a history lover's paradise.   The photographer on loan to me from our Gannett sister station WUSA, Bill McKnight, told me he read once it would take 61 years for a person to read all the informational displays in the Smithsonian museums here.

That would be, I'm guessing, 68 years for me because I pause between words to think about what they mean and why they were placed in that order.  Maybe it would best to divide up the reading and then share notes with other people in my group.

This Crazy Digital Age

A half hour before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Franken stepped up to the microphones for their photo op in the Senate Monday, my wife Lisa texted me to say that the news conference was already being beamed live on The Uptake. She asked me to step in front of the lectern so she could see me.

She had been alerted to the live web cast by a Twitter from the Uptake. I don't Twitter as much as I should because I don't have one of those darned Blackberries yet, but at least someone Tweeted from the same place I was standing so I suppose that's almost as good.

I had already used up my most logical excuse for standing there by the microphones -- the color balance or "white balance" we do for the cameras before a news conference.  So I just loitered in front of it again as I read text messages, as if reading them required to stop right there.

On the flight here my plane stopped in Chicago, where I popped out and grabbed a Chicago Tribune.  The travel section included a great piece by Patrick Reardon retracing the towns Abraham Lincoln stopped in during his inaugural train journey from Springfield to Washington in February of 1861.

He said Lincoln spent 12 days traveling and covered 1,600 miles.  He took took the scene route, hugging the Great Lakes shoreline cities through Buffalo and Albany.

Sunday night I'd been able to fly over those mountains and arrive in the District of Columbia in mere hours. And there I was Monday staring at paintings of Lincoln in the U-S Capitol getting text messages from Minnesota asking me to walk into a live web cast shot.

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