It’s Complicated: Women In Al Franken’s Home State React to Resignation

Among the recent — and most high profile — men brought down by the #MeToo movement was Al Franken, the popular liberal Democrat and former comedian from Minnesota.
Of the various resignations to send shockwaves across the country, it was Franken’s that appeared to carry the most handwringing. The announcement came after a series of allegations of forced kissing and groping and some of the loudest calls to step down came from within the Democratic ranks. ”I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand posted on Facebook. On top of that, the national conversation surrounding sexual misconduct — and political backdrop of allegations against a GOP Senate candidate and President Trump — made the prospect of him staying in office untenable to many. But some Franken supporters found the allegations impossible to reconcile with the senator’s reputation as a steadfast supporter for women’s rights. Others saw the mounting calls to resign immediately — before an internal ethics panel could complete its review— as a dangerous skirting of due process. Still, Franken, who has largely denied the allegations, bowed to pressure to step down immediately, while other elected officials who have been accused of — and in some cases, admitted to — misconduct have not.
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The reckoning was especially difficult for some in his home state of Minnesota, which Franken had represented since winning a razor-thin election in 2008: A recent poll from a left-leaning outlet found that half of Minnesota voters didn’t want him to resign. What’s more, 57% of women respondents said they approved of his job performance.
As Franken made his resignation official this week, Refinery29 spoke to female constituents who expressed a range of reactions. Read on to hear their views.
All interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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“It’s extremely sad, not just for staffers, but a lot of women in Minnesota."

Natalie Volin Lehr
The Former Aide Who Urged Him Not To Resign

“It’s extremely sad, not just for staffers, but a lot of women in Minnesota. I haven’t had anyone do anything but express disappointment. He was really forced out in spite of Minnesotans’ desire to be kept in.

“Everybody who knows him who has worked with him, just finds these allegations to be unbelievable and not credible. … Claims need to be evaluated carefully, especially in a very brutal political environment where things can be exploited. My concern, I think in general, is that when the pendulum swings too far the other way, it might disadvantage those making legitimate and accurate allegations. And that scares me.”

— Natalie Volin Lehr, 32-year-old attorney and former Franken aide.
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"I feel like on one hand, as a politician, he should be held to a higher standard."

Emily Sullivan
The Conflicted Supporter Who’d Rather Be “Safe” When It Comes To #MeToo

“I’m torn about it, personally. I feel like on one hand, as a politician, he should be held to a higher standard. On the other hand, I really liked his politics and policies. But I would lean toward zero tolerance. I would prefer to be on the safe side, the right side.”

— Emily Sullivan, a 24-year-old Minneapolis stage manager.
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“I am still going back and forth. I just wish we would have gotten through the ethics investigation."

Cara Nix
The Student Who Changed Her Mind After More Women Came Forward

“It’s been really difficult for me to balance what’s been drilled into me — trust the victim trust the victim —with what I thought about the man who was our senator. It was hard for me to process that. At first, I thought the calls for him to resign were absurd. Within the College Dems, I was surprised at how many people wanted him to resign — it was me and 3 other people out of 40 who wanted to wait for the Senate Ethics Committee investigation to finish. Even the guys were like, ‘This is not acceptable, he has to leave.’

“Personally, l would not have been mad at him if he had continued his term and let the people decide. But all the allegations, they kept multiplying. After a week or two, I thought resigning would be the best decision. The Democratic Party as a whole, we needed to show the country that we’re the party of morals.

“I am still going back and forth. I just wish we would have gotten through the ethics investigation because I feel that was the system that needed to happen. But right now, as of this moment and for a few weeks, I think resigning was the right decision.”

— Cara Nix, 19-year old sophomore and outreach coordinator for the University of Minnesota College Democrats.
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"Just because the Republicans aren’t going harsh enough on their candidates doesn't mean we shouldn’t.”

Maddie Eckardt
The Gender, Women, & Sexuality Major Who’s Mad At Her Peers — And Her Party — For Moving Too Slow

“I think he should have stepped down immediately. He shouldn’t have been in office for a month and a half after the first allegation. Honestly, I’m kind of embarrassed that it took six victims and I think it hurt our party more that it took him so long to step down. When it first happened, when the first victim came forward, I was shocked at how many of my liberal friends supported him still or did not want him to resign. As more victims came forward, they changed their minds. That’s sickening to me. I think one victim is too much already.”

“Should Al Franken be in office? No. Should Donald Trump and Roy Moore be in office? No. None of them should be. Roy Moore and Donald Trump have probably done worse than Al Franken, but that’s besides the point...just because the Republicans aren’t going harsh enough on their candidates doesn't mean we shouldn’t.”

— Maddie Eckardt, 21-year-old senior and social media coordinator for the University of Minnesota College Democrats.
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When you use Sen. Franken as the sacrificial lamb for all things sexual aggression, you have completely minimized everything I lived with for the last 40 years.

Lesley Culver

The Survivor Concerned That Victims Will Lose In The Long Run

“I’m a lawyer and we believe innocent until proven guilty. It doesn't mean we have to doubt what any of those women said, of being true or not true. It’s not about doubt. It’s about the process and both parties are entitled to that process, including Senator Franken. He’s entitled to be heard. And when it’s just, There’s an allegation, and we’re just going to shove you out, all of those women that it happened to, they lost their voice, too. It’s just mob rule.”

“I am also a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a non-family member. I don’t think any of the jokes or the groping is appropriate in any way, but its still doesn’t rise to the level of raping a 14-year-old. When you use Senator Franken as the sacrificial lamb for all things sexual aggression, you have completely minimized everything I lived with for the last 40 years. And you did so at your own political gain.

“I guess for me, being a victim of sexual abuse, my takeaway of all of this, which is really kind of sad, is politics always trumps. It always trumps. No matter who says they’re for women’s rights, the politics seem to alway trump the experiences of the victims. People will say [the resignation is] for the greater good, or this or that, and I get that on a greater level. But that’s a hard pill to swallow for someone who has lived through it.

— Lesley Culver, 49, political independent.
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Al stepping down really brought light to that this is not a partisan issue, this is a societal issue and a man issue.

Bella Maki
The College Democrat Who Thought He Was Her “Go-To Guy” For 2020

“I was heartbroken when all the allegations came out. But at the same time, I stand with women, I believe women. Al stepping down really brought light to that this is not a partisan issue, this is a societal issue and a man issue. I really hope [his resignation] sets a precedent for the future and educating from an early point on in life about consent and love and respect for women.”

Bella Maki, vice president of the College Democrats at the University of Minnesota, Duluth
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I believe the women, but I worry that someone has pushed them to come out in a particular time frame that was significant for Republicans.

Heather Eastlund
The Democrat Who Wants This All To “Mean Something”

“I feel very torn. Of course, I am 100% behind ‘believe her’ — I believe the women that these things happened — but there’s still this nagging thing because he’s such a well-respected Democratic senator and has such a great history. It’s hard to let someone like that go. I also have this terrible nagging feeling...I believe the women, but I worry that someone has pushed them to come out in a particular time frame that was significant for Republicans.

“I think ultimately, if he did crappy things, he needs to resign for those crappy things. How can Democrats call for Trump’s resignation if we’re not willing to hold people we love to the standard? But really, my greatest hope that I don’t actually think is going to materialize is… I want it to mean something. And it does mean something for the women [who accused him of misconduct] and I don’t want to take something away from that, but I want it to mean something in the bigger political sense as well, that this is the standard to which we hold all people in political office. And we’re definitely not there.”

— Heather Eastlund, 34-year-old department administrator at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
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