Al Franken on “The Fry” and his map drawing skills

Senator Tom Harkin's annual "Steak Fry" fundraiser has been a launching pad for some political luminaries (see Barack Obama, Harkin Steak Fry '06 keynoter).  Senator Al Franken (D-Minneapolis, Minnesota) is the headliner for this year's event.

Franken, though, is quick to downplay the idea he has his sights set on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "I guess that most people who speak at the Steak Fry eventually run for president. I guess that's been the history but I'm not interested in running for president," Franken said earlier this afternoon during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa. "I'm coming because I like Tom Harkin and I like steak." 

As you likely know, Franken was the most-junior member of the United States Senate following the razor thin margins on Election Day 2008, the recounts and the court challenge meant he was not sworn in until July 7, 2009.  But a new senator for the State of Florida was sworn in yesterday, so that means George LeMieux is the most-junior senator now.  Here's a partial transcript of our conversation this afternoon.

Henderson: "I think people are curious as to what this transition has been like."

Franken: "Of course we had the long wait between the election and the swearing in, but it's been worth it. You know, I got here late, but not too late and I'm looking forward to having an impact on this health care debate and the ultimate passage of comprehensive health care reform that's going to get everyone health care and make it affordable and enhance the quality and keep people healthy and extend their lives in a healthy way and there are all kinds of other matters that are before us.  I came to the senate at a very crucial time and I'm really excited about it." 

Henderson:  "You are on Judiciary and HELP, so could you have written a better scenario for yourself?"

Franken: "Well, I did have the odd thing of about four days after I was there of finding myself on the dais of the Judiciary Committee, of giving an opening statement in the Sotomayor hearings, at a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court justice and as someone who always watches those – I don't watch, you know, every minute of every one of those hearings — but I've watched every one of them I think since they've been televised.  It was kind of surreal in a way.  But actually I had a lot of things I wanted to talk about even though I'm not a lawyer. I did some research and I found out most Americans aren't lawyers and so I felt I was speaking for them.

"And I talked about judicial activism and one of the things that has sort of irritated me over the years is when certain people run for office and they tend to be Republicans who say, 'I'm against judicial activism. What I want from a judge is someone who is not going to legislate from the bench, someone like Clarence Thomas' and then if you look at Clarence Thomas, he's by far the most judicially active member of the bench in the sense that he votes to overturn law made by the legislature which is, I guess, legislating from the bench so I got to talk about that and i got to talk about net neutrality which is making sure that the Internet stays the Internet so I was pleased to do that and I'm glad we confirmed Justice Sotomayor and maybe we'll have one or two more of those." 

Franken, as you may have seen, drew a map of the United States – free hand, during an appearance at the Minnesota State Fair.  I had to ask: "Will there be a similar moment at the Harkin Steak Fry?"

"I hadn't thought about that, but now that you bring it up, maybe," Franken said.  "It wouldn't be that exciting to draw a map of Iowa.  I mean, the impressive thing about the United States is I can do all 50 states from memory and to scale, without reference to any map. But…the key to Iowa is the eastern part, the part along the river. It looks a little like a nose."

At this point in the conversation, I interjected: "That's the Quad Cities, twice as fun as the Twin Cities."

Franken replied: *That's quite a catchy phrase."

Yes, it is.  I heard actor Tom Hanks utter that line in the 1986 movie "Nothing In Common." 

Franken noted the joke was at the expense of Minnesotans. Our allotted time for conversation soon came to a close.  After I thanked the senator for his time, he replied: "you bet." (There was no "cha" at the end of "bet" — honest!)

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.